10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the disposal of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers; but before doing so I wish to read the following extract from the Sun Pictorial of 26th November -
Lord Inchcape and Lord Kylsant are reported to be making keen inquiries regarding the Commonwealth Line of Steamers which has been offered for gale. Lord Kylsant controls 41 companies and Lord Inchape 32. The latter’s interests are worldwide, whereas, apparently, Lord Kylsant has left a solitary gap, the freight service to Australia. Lord Kylsant recently negotiated the purchase of the White Star Line, making the Royal Mail Packet Coy. the largest owners of tonnage in the world.
In view of this statementI should like to know if any communication hasbeen received from Lord Kylsant or Lord Inchcape or any person representing their interests with regard to the disposal of the Line ?
– A cablegram was received from Lord Inchcape and also one either from Lord Kylsant direct or from some person representing him. The cablegram from Lord Inchcape was to the effect that he would be prepared to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers; that he had sold, I think, 600,000,000 tons of shipping for the British Government since the war, and would be prepared to act for the Commonwealth Government in this regard without remuneration. The cablegram from Lord Kylsant asked, in effect, if, in the event of any offer being made for the Line, the Commonwealth Government would undertake to indemnify the purchaser against loss should industrial troubles arise. To both cables I have replied that the Commonwealth Government proposes to offer the Line by public tender, and cannot in the meantime accept any other offer.
Reports on Timber and Butter.
– On Friday the
Prime Minister was good enough to indicate that the Government’s tariff proposals would probably be debated this week. In these circumstances, I should like to know when it is proposed to table the Tariff Board’s report on timber and butter?
– The reports mentioned by the honorable member will be tabled to-day.
– I should like to know what action the Government proposes to take regarding the allegation that Emanuel Abrahams was permitted to breakthe law by being allowed to leave Australia before providing the bond demanded by the Taxation Department?
– The officers of the Attorney-General’s Department in Melbourne are, under my instructions, examining the judgment given by Judge Moule on Saturday, with a view to advising as to the proceedings proper in the circumstances.
– It is reported in the press of Saturday that Mr. Lyons, the
Premier of Tasmania, suggests that the present shipping trouble may be overcome by convening a conf erence between representatives of the Commonwealth andof the State of Tasmania. I should like to know if the attention of the Prime Minister has been drawn to that statement, and whether it is proposed to hold such a conference; also whether the right honorable gentleman thinks that the holding of such a conference would be of any service at the present juncture? I should like to know, too, if, in the event of a strike occurring, the Government will take immediate action to take over the ships trading to Tasmania, and thus safeguard the tourist traffic for the coming season ?
– I have not seen any statement by Mr. Lyons suggesting a conference between the Commonwealth and the State, and I certainly do not wish to prejudice the position in any way by making a pronouncement before any suggestion is made. As to the maintenance of the service between Tasmania and the mainland in the event of serious industrial trouble resulting from the present dispute, I can only assure the honorable member that the Government will take whatever steps it may consider necessary. I remind him that on a previous occasion when communication between the mainland and Tasmania was disrupted the Commonwealth took very definite action.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister the following questions: - Has the Prime Mininster seen the telegraphed report from Hobart in the Sydney press to the effect that the Commonwealth Government was seeking to compel the Tasmanian Government to take action against the Waterside Workers’ Union in connexion with the existing dispute on the waterfront? Did the Prime Minister inform the Premier of Tasmania that he should use his influence with the Waterside Workers’ Union to end the dispute, and if such action proved ineffectual, the Tasmanian Government should prosecute the union. . Is not the dispute one which concerns an industry under the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court,and one, therefore, in which the Federal authorities should act without attempting to embroil a State Government?
– I have not seen the newspaper report referred to in the first and second portions of the honorable member’s question, but it certainly does not give a fair representation of the action which the Commonwealth Government has taken in this matter. In response to a communication from the Premier of Tasmania I sent the following telegram : -
Reply your telegram twenty-third, I ununderstand that court declines to deal with waterside workers’ dispute while union uses direct action and retains domestic rules inconsistent with awards. I am not prepared to take any steps in direction of suggesting to court that it should abandon an attitude so obviously right. According to my information complete responsibility for present position rests with union. I suggest that you should accordingly use your influence with the union. If for any reason you are not prepared to do this, or if it proves ineffective, the alternative of taking proceedings against the union or officers for offence under the Arbitration Act is open either to your Government or any interested person. My Government has not available precise detailed information upon which it could found a prosecution, but is quite prepared to prosecute under Arbitration Act or Crimes Act if legal evidence available. Would be glad if you would inform me on this.
In reply to the concluding portion of the honorable member’s question, I may say that there are provisions in the Arbitration Act under which any person or government concerned can take proceedings if thought proper. The only action suggested by the Premier of Tasmania was that the Commonwealth Government should urge the Arbitration Court to deal with the claims made by the union, notwithstanding that the union or its memberswere doing what in the opinion of the court amounted to a deliberate flouting of the court. The Commonwealth Government has declined, and still declines, to take any action in this direction. Pull inquiries are being made into the matter, in order to see whether there is any action which the Commonwealth can usefully take. In the meantime, I suggest that if any members of this House have any influence with the union, whose apparently unjustifiable action threatens to bring about widespread unemployment and distress, they should use it to bring the union to a recognition of its responsibility.
– Can the Prime Minister make any statement with regard to the recently reported conversations between the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister of Egypt, and as to any results arising therefrom.
– I am not in a position to make any statement on the matter, except that the Commonwealth Government has been kept informed of the progress of those negotiations, which - I think I can quite properly say - have been of the most satisfactory character, and there is every prospect that they will result in a very definite and acceptable basis being arrived at for an agreement between Great Britain and Egypt.
– When will the Minister for Trade and Customs table the Tariff Board’s report on crystal glass?
– Very shortly.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs had his attention drawn to the statements of manufacturers with regard to deferred duties in the tariff schedule which was laid on the table of the House last week, that probably twelve months’ supply of those articles which come under the deferred duties will be immediately imported into Australia, thus keeping back Australian industries for another year?
– My attention has been drawn to those statements, but I have reason to believe that the position will not be so bad as is claimed. There is some misapprehension with regard to the duties that were recently tabled. Most of them come into immediate operation. Those which are deferred apply only to articles of which the manufacture has not, as yet, advanced very far in Australia.
– Some three weeks ago I -directed a question to the Minister for Health seeking to ascertain the qualifications of the inspectors appointed to inspect overseas shipments of food. Is the honorable gentleman yet in a position to supply that information?
– It has been a long, tedious inquiry, but I think the desired information will be available this week.
– In view of the fact that the main function of Parliament is to control the finances, and that no explanation has been given by Ministers of the estimates of expenditure, which were rushed through the House on Friday last. - will the Prime Minister provide an opportunity for Ministers to reply to criticism on the following matters which, amongst others, were raised during the debate: The Public Service Board’s attack on the Public Service Arbitrator, and on the political rights of public servants; the inadequacy of war service homes advances; repatriation grievances and anomalies; invalid and old-age pension anomalies, particularly those relating to the blind; and the extravagance and waste involved in the building and furnishing of residences at Canberra for the GovernorGeneral and the Prime Minister? Further, is it the intention of the Government, when carrying out the remainder of its legislative programme, to resort to the same unbusinesslike and somewhat discreditable procedure which characterized the passing of the Estimates?
– Order ! A question must not contain reflections of this nature.
– The Government does not propose to take any other than the customary action when putting Estimates through Parliament. Regarding the second part of the honorable member’s question, I entirely dissent from his assumption that unbusinesslike methods were adopted. I assure honorable members that the Government will take what ever steps it deems necessary to ensure that its legislative programme is put through this Parliament.
– At about 3 o’clock on Friday morning last honorable members became involved in a tremendous argument regarding a certain ruling of the Chairman of Committees. In view of the fact that at least two of the Temporary Chairmen of Committees disagreed with that ruling, and subsequently voted with the minority on a motion to dissent from it, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, the following questions: - If, in committee, the question, “ That the first item of the Estimates be agreed to,” were put from the Chair, and subsequently an amendment were moved thereto, what would be the position if the closure were applied? Would the question, “ That the question be now put,” apply only to the amendment before the Chair, or to both the amendment and the original question ?
– It is not usual to address questions to the Speaker with regard to the rulings of the Chairman of Committees.
Facilitating Answers to Questions
– Last week I asked a question about some administrative acts of the Department of Home and Territories. No reply has yet been given. As Sir John Butters and the other commissioners are on the spot, I ask the Minister for Home and Territories how long it will take to obtain a reply?
– I shall endeavour to have the answers to the honorable member’s question expedited.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– I arn making inquiries to ascertain whether it is possible to obtain the information desired by the honorable member and shall give him whatever information is available as soon as possible.
Schools - Research Farm - Leases Held By Chief Lands Officer
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
In connexion with the question of the honorable member for Bourke on the 15th instant (Hansard, page 1379), and the Minister’s reply thereto in which he stated that seven blocks of land in Canberra are held by Mr. J. C. Bracken rug, the Chief Lands Officer of the Commission, and his wife, will the Minister state -
Were these seven blocks submitted to and obtained at public auction; if so, when?
If not, how were they obtained?
What price was paid for each block, and what is the present valuation?
Were the conditions in regard to building within a specified time fulfilled in each intance?
What other administrative officers of the commission are speculating with land under their control, and how many blocks are held in eacli instance?
Is it intended to allow this practice to continue?
– The information required by the honorable member is being obtained and will be made available as soonas possible.
asked the Prime Minister, uponnotice - 1.Is it a fact that Dr.R. J. Tillyard, when interviewed in Auckland, said that the losses in Australia through insects and weeds were between £.10,000,000 and£ 20,000,000; that the position was more serious than he had at first thought; that there were no co-ordinated efforts to combat either class of pest; and that he had suggested that the Commonwealth should embark on a comprehensive programme to deal with the problem?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether ho will produce figures indicating, up to the present date, the quantity of celotex imported into Australia?
– The information is not available as celotex is not recorded separately in the official import statistics.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Will he give an understanding that, if any further supplies of radium are required by the Government, the Australian Radium Company will bc given an opportunity of supplying the requirements?
– The Government will carefully consider in all its aspects the purchase of any further supplies of radium.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Theanswers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Hospital Accommodation forwomen.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.FORDE (through Mr. E. Riley) asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the letters received by him from dairymen’s associations in Queensland, asking him to support the decision of the Cooperative Butter and Cheese Factories Association of Victoria, at their recent conference, to approach the Federal Minister with a view to getting a bounty on all butter exported, and for a customs duty on imported butter and cheese, will he state whether a decision has been made by the Government, and, if not, when is it expected that the Government’s intentions will be made known in regard to both of these matters ?
– The duty on butter and cheese was increased by the tariff resolutions submitted to the House on Thursday last. The question of a bounty on butter exported has not been considered.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, uponnotice -
What are (a) the highest amounts, and
On what basis are the amounts paid determined?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice-
– The information is being obtained.
Payments to Senator J. D. Millen
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What is the total amount paid by the Government to SenatorJ. D. Millen during the period he has been negotiating on behalf of the Government with the. Friendly Societies and the British Medical Association ?
– The amount paid to Senator Millen was £316.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact, as stated in Sydney, that it is his intention to leave for England soon after the Estimates have been passed, and during his stay in England to endeavour to dispose of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers?
Transfer to Commonwealth
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With regard to the suggested transfer of the Perth Observatory to the Commonwealth Government -
Have any negotiations been entered into with the State Government?
Can he make any statement as to the result of the negotiations, if any?
As the State Government’s decision to close the Observatory will take effect in about five weeks, will he endeavour to have the matter finalized before that periodhas elapsed ?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he furnish a. return showing the importations into Australia for the past five years of -
Wool tops ?
Yarns - knitting and weaving.
Piece goods - woollen, worsted, and cotton tweeds ?
Other knitted goods?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 26th October the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) asked the following question : -
What proportion of the imports to the Commonwealth for the year1926-27 was admitted free?
I amnow able to supply the honorable member with the following information : -
The compilation of the information for 1926-27 will not be completed for some weeks. On completion I will supply this further information to the honorable member.
The value and the proportion of the imports to the Commonwealth of goods admitted free during theyears . 1922-23 to 1925-26 were as follows : -
– On the 3rd November the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) asked the following questions : -
I am now able to supply the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the loth November the honorable member for Capricorn ia (Mr. Forde) asked the following questions : -
What is the quantity of exports, in tons, of (a) wool, (b) wheat, (c) sugar,(d) meat, (e) butter, (f) cotton, (g) cheese, (h) and all other primary products from Australia for the financial years ended 30thJune. 1926, and 30th June, 1927.
I urn now able to supply the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 23rd November the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I now desire to inform the honorable member - 1, 2, and 3. Inquiry has been made, but there is no information in the department on these points.
– On the 24th November the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the information -
– On the 17th November the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that in reply to a cablegram sent to the High Commissioner in London on the subject, I have received advice that ex-Senator de Largie has not been appointed to any position in the High Commissioner’s Office, the offices of the Agents-General for the States, or the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers there. The High Commissioner adds that he is unaware that ex-Senator de Largie has been appointed to any other official or semi-official position in Great Britain, by any board or commission under government control.
– I lay on the table reports by the Tariff Board dealing with butter and cheese; domestic kitchen ware; timber; socks and stockings; pianos, player pianos, and keyboards; glucose; piece goods, knitted in tubular form or otherwise; plain linoleum; fur strips; and gramophone records (disc type only), and move -
That the reports be printed.
– Other reports submitted to the Minister have not yet been laid on the table of the House.
– They will be laid on the table to-morrow. I am purposely acting in this way in order not to overwhelm the staff of the Government Printing Office. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the Government Printer and his staff at Canberra for having done so well with the work of printing of these reports. It is a big undertaking.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were also presented : -
Superannuation Act - Fifth Report of the Superannuation Fund Management Board. 1926-27.
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board Reports and Recommendations -
Butter and Cheese.
Domestic Kitchen ware.
Gramophone Records (Disc Type only).
Pianos, Player Pianos, and Keyboards. Piece Goods, Knitted, in Tubular Form, or Otherwise. Plain Linoleum. Socks and Stockings. Timber.
Ordered to be printed.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Australia Act -
Central Australia - Ordinances of 1927 -
No. 12 - Supreme Court(No. 2).
No. 13 - Slaughtering (No. 2).
North Australia - Ordinances of 1927 -
No. 12 - Supreme Court(No. 2).
No. 13 - Slaughtering (No. 2).
Public Service Act -List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Service on 30th June, 1927.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce), by leave, agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden ) , on the ground of urgent public business.
Debate resumed from 15th November (vide page 1400), on motion by Dr. Earle Page -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is a bill to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act, which authorizes the collection of the tax. Therefore, a measure of this description opens up many genera] considerations as to the method of collecting the tax, and the amount of tax required. In his second reading speech, as well as in the budget speech, the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) announced a reduction of 10 per cent, iri the rate of income tax. In addition to that, this bill provides for many concessions regarding income tax, some of which I believe are desirable, and others in my judgment, are not. The whole of these concessions, together with the proposed. 10 per cent, reduction, are estimated to result in a loss of revenue for the ensuing -financial year of about £1,300,000. This tax was really imposed as a war measure. It was passed in war time to help to meet the extraordinary cost of the war, but. mainly to provide the interest on the war debt then being incurred. We should ask ourselves whether the war obligation has ended, since it is proposed to make such severe cuts in the revenue derived from income taxation. We read statements by outside bodies - and it is also suggested in this House-*-that it is time the Commonwealth abandoned the field of income taxation. It is argued that this tax was imposed during the war for war purposes, and that now the war is over the tax should be abolished, and the Commonwealth should vacate the field. There might be some merit in that argument if our war obligations had ended with the war; but they did not. The Treasurer remarked recently that war expenditure from revenue was higher this year than in any previous period. Yet he proposes to reduce the revenue from income taxation by £1,300,000.
I propose to consider the subject, of tax concessions and reductions in the light of a few comparative figures, and I intend to be brief, because I do not desire to traverse again what was said during the budget debate. In 1921-22 the income tax yielded £16,790,000, and it is estimated that during the current financial year it will give only £9,800,000, a reduction of about £7,000,000. At the same time the interest on the war debt, which, in 1921-22, amounted to £18,075,000, is estimated for the current year to amount to £17,822,000- a reduction of only about £250,000. It must be remembered that our total debt increased during the period under review because of the necessity for reducing certain war - debts. The total interest payable in 1921-22 was £18,976,000, and for the current year it will be £21,539,000, or an increase of about £2,500,000, notwithstanding the fact that income taxation will have been reduced by £7,000,000. Of course, the Treasurer may say that reduction of taxation is creditable to his administrative capacity; but he can take very little comfort from, that fact when he realizes that indirect taxation, which amounted to £49,678,000 in 1921-22, is expected to amount, in the current financial year, to £5S.550,000, an increase of approximately £9,000,000. At the same time the total expenditure from revenue has increased from £64,195,000 to £75,812,000, an increase of £11,617,000. Our public debt has grown. Indirect taxation has gone up; our war obligations are still with us: and yet it is proposed to relieve from taxation the very persons who should first be called upon to meet some of the obligations of the war. I direct attention to.an arresting statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), who, when speaking at Northam, Western Australia., according to a report in the Melbourne Age of the 14th July last, said -
Thu time would come when the customs revenues would drop, and drop heavily, and then the Commonwealth would get a rude shock, and require a re-orientation of ideas. «1 thoroughly agree with the Prime Minister. He spoke on that occasion .in one of his lucid moments; but lids statement, does not, fit in with his policy. Many persons, both outside this House and within it - and I am one of them - believe in greater protection for Australian industries, and at the same time they demand that the Commonwealth shall retire from the field of direct taxation. Yet they know that if effective protection were brought about, less revenue would be derived through the customs. These persons, as the Prime
Minister said, will require a reorientation of ideas; they will receive a rude shock when the revenue from customs does drop heavily. Australia has had a succession of excellent seasons for over a decade. Everywhere we have had signs of prosperity; but we are facing a period that does not look so prosperous as the immediate past has been.- The coming financial year does not promise to be so bright from any point of view, public or private.
– The new tariff will provide increased revenue.
– It will not be as effective as it ought to be. If it were, it would yield less revenue than in the past. Too great a desire has been shown to build up preferential trade with Great Britain rather than develop Australian industries. During recent years lavish expenditure has been indulged in both publicly and privately. In prosperous times tlie Government ought not to increase, even if it should fail to reduce, its indebtedness: because in lean years the burden of the interest bill will be more keenly felt. There should be a reversion to the policy of paying for certain works out of revenue, instead of from the Loan Fund, and direct taxation should be maintained at its present level instead of being reduced by £1,300,000 in respect of income tax and by a further £500,000 in respect of land tax.
I again urge, as I have done for some years, the need for a. fuller consideration of our taxation measures. Not for a number of years have those measures been the subject of a full and proper discussion. If honorable members will review the conditions that have obtained in the last five or six years when amendments of our taxation law have been brought forward, they will find that frequently the discussions have taken place during all-night sittings, when honorable members have been either altogether or half asleep. That is not a commendable method of dealing with legislation. The result has been that each succeeding year further amendments have been found essential, and the effect upon the revenue has been somewhat disastrous, because clever tax dodgers who are in a position to pay for the services of astute agents and to bear the financial burden of litigation have been able to relieve themselves of a large measure of their responsibility, whilst others who are not similarly well placed financially, have been compelled to contribute more than their fair proportion. I admit that taxation legislation is perhaps the most difficult to grasp, and it must, therefore, be the most difficult to draft; but it should not be beyond, the genius of our draughtsmen to prepare legislation that will express the intention of Parliament, instead of being open to successful attack whenever tested. During “the last -five or six years there has been a continual patching up of holes that have been driven in the law. We are now asked to repair another Haw. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) has referred to the case Weatherley v. Commissioner of Taxation. One of the learned judges who heard that case strongly favoured the department; but he had a majority of the court against him. If honorable members will read the arguments of counsel, and particularly the judgments of the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice’ Isaacs and Mr. Justice Higgins, they will realize how the vague phraseology of the law lends itself to the spinning of cobwebs of legal argument, and consequent escape from taxation, and that my contention” that there should be a more ample discussion of these measures by Parliament is amply justified. I draw the attention of honorable members to what I consider a just criticism of our methods, uttered by Mr. Justice Higgins in the course of his judgment. That learned judge said -
Owing to the patchwork character of successive amendments of the act it is very dillicult, if not impossible, to discover one consistent, harmonious scheme throughout the act. The practice seems to be to stuff up every hole in the act as it appears.
I agree that that has been the practice. Before any attempt is made to reduce the amount of revenue obtained from the taxation of incomes, the Government should by every means try to devise, as far as practicable equitable methods of levying taxation. Although it is not possible to make the taxation law absolutely equitable, I am convinced that it can be made more equitable than it is to-day. Previous attempts to have that done have provoked the rejoinder that it would occasion a loss of revenue. When an agreement has been reached upon the policy to be adopted, and a decision has been arrived at ns to who should bear the burden, the rate for each class should bc the same for all who fall within that class.
In this bill an attempt is being made to extend the averaging principle by permitting losses to be carried forward. The Treasurer indicated in his second-reading speech that in committee he would submit a number of averaging schemes that had been considered by the Taxation Department. Honorable members can visualize what is likely to happen. The numerous suggestions that the Treasurer has in his possession will be thrown on the table, perhaps in the midst of a warm and an animated discussion of principles, and no honorable member will have sufficient time to grasp their significance. Why cannot those that have been submitted to and examined by the department, and pronounced upon by experienced officers, be placed before honorable members in memorandum form so that they may have a week or so in which to consider them and arrive at an intelligent judgment of their relative merits? The clause will probably go through exactly as it has been drafted because the rule of party, and not that of common sense or of justice, will apply. No person willingly pays taxation, but I believe that the majority of people realize that it must be imposed to enable the government of the country to be carried on. The most prolific cause of irritation is the feeling that one is paying comparatively a greater tax than others who earn a similar income. Under the existing system, the income is averaged over a period of five years for the purpose of ascertaining not the amount upon which tax shall be paid, but the rate which shall be charged on the tax- able income in any particular year. It is really an averaging of rates, not of income. In addition to that, it is now proposed by the Treasurer to take a step further, and carry forward losses into the averaging period. This, I submit, does not more than touch the fringe of the problem. No relief will be given to men with practically no income, or a very small income, in one year, and with a large income in other years. Nothing less than a scheme of averaging incomes will bring about a measure of justice. It is true that an averaging for five years will not be perfect, but it will be nearer perfection than if each year were taken separately.
– If aman has a large income one year and a small income another will not the tax he pays over a period of years average out nearly right?.
– That is a statement which is frequently made. It is said by those w-ho favour that view that over a period of years the taxpayer will receive at least a rough measure of justice. But I have made many tests myself, and I find that although on the surface that arrangement looks fair enough, actually it is not fair. Taking actual and supposititious cases, it will be found that under the present system men with irregular incomes, averaging over a period of five years, say, £1,000, pay sometimes more and sometimes less than those with a regular income of £1,000 a year. So far as I have been able to determine from the tests which I have made, I believe that the system of averaging to arrive at the rate of tax applicable, is further from justice than the old system. Under the existing system a man with a diminishing income will pay more than a man receiving regularly an income which is the same as the average of the diminishing income, and, on the other hand, a man with an increasing income pays less.
– If his average income remains high, he will, at the end of the period, be paying equally heavily.
– Let the honorable member take his ready reckoner and work out the income payable under the system of averaging to fix the rate of taxation as operating in the existing Income TaxAct, and he will find that the man with a diminishing income will pay more than the man with a regular income.
– Is it not a fact that all these suggestions were exhaustively examined by the royal commission, which eventually came to the conclusion that the averaging of incomes to determine the rate of tax was better than the system of charging tax on the average income.
– It is true that the commission was in favour of the averaging to determine the rate of tax, but its recommendation was not unanimous. A minority favored a different method. I believe that evidence could be secured to support the view that the averaging of incomes should be preferred. As the existing system does not work out fairly to the man on an irregular income, we should endeavour to substitute another which will provide as substantial a measure of justice as possible. I still maintain that a man on a diminishing income is placed at a disadvantage under the existing system.
– There is a special provision to cover permanently diminishing incomes.
– That is so; but where no evidence can be produced of a permanentdimination of income, the special provision does not operate. However, we can argue that better when we come to the clause in committee.
– I, too, reserved details for the committee stage.
– I do npt say that the Treasurer should have given us more details in his second-reading speech, but I say that the schemes which he has examined should have been made available to honorable members for consideration weeks before we were called on to discuss the measure.
I protest strongly against the amendment proposed in this bill relating to company taxation. The Treasurer, in his second- reading speech, said that it was proposed to refrain from compelling companies to pay indirectly the income tax payable by an absentee shareholder. This provision, he said, was a very wide one. I agree that it is. I consider that it is a pernicious discrimination against Australian shareholders. “While the absentee shareholder will not be taxed, the Australian shareholder will be taxed. There is a reciprocal arrangement with the British Government which provides for certain rebates to avoid double taxation, but if this amendment is carried, that arrangement will be done away with, and the position will be this : that while the United Kingdom taxes Australian residents on profits made in Britain, British residents who derive in come from Australia will not be fully taxed. There is no reciprocity a.bout that, and it is absolutely unfair. If the United Kingdom taxes residents in Australia on profits made in Britain, Australia is entitled to do the same thing to residents in Britain who draw profits from Australia.
– Britain does not tax Australian residents in respect of profits made in Britain. Britain taxes on the principle of the flag. A person residing in Britainpays on income derived from any part of the world; but a person not residing in Britain is not taxed on profits made there.
– The British income tax is imposed on all profits of a company, and all profits are taxed before they are distributed, whether they are sent to British or Australian taxpayers. These profits are taxed in the hands of the company, and at full company rates. The British resident receives a rebate on the company tax, but there is no such rebate for the Australian resident. I think the British tax was 4s. 6d. in the£1, but the rate may have been reduced since.
– I suggest that the exact position in Great Britain should be shown in the statement.
– I think so. In the United Kingdom an Australian or any resident shareholder in a British company pays income tax. It is paid by the company, and is rebated only when a British shareholder can show that he has paid the tax. The United Kingdom collects tax at a high rate from. Australian residents on British profits; and from British residents on Australian profits; yet we are to receive only the ls. company tax on Australian profits. Great Britain is getting the tax both ways. The Treasurer put up a plea for the absentees. He said that the purpose of the bill is to attract outside capital to this country. The same argument is used to justify the Government’s policy of overseas borrowing, but how far is it to go? We can have too much outside capital brought in to exploit the resources of this country. Certain countries are to-day preparing to take up arms because of outside capital exploiting their territories. Our laws are not like those of the
Medes and Persians, and we cannot lay it down that at all costs we must obtain outside capital.
– By bringing in outside capital we may drive Australian capital outside.
– And particularly so when discrimination is used against Australian capital in favour of outside capital, as is proposed tinder the bill. Why not tax absentee shareholders just as we tax Australian shareholders? If the absentees are beyond the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, as is argued by the Treasurer, I submit that the company is not. We should tax in such cases at the source as Britain does. Let me pursue that argument further. The Treasurer says that by treating absentees liberally, and exempting them from tax we shall attract capital here. What about the big land companies which have monopolies of large areas of Australian soil? Some of them have done good work in the development of this country; but others have done harm in blocking progress that has more than counterbalanced the good. On the same principle should not absentee land-owners be exempt from land tax?
– They are not exempt at present.
– And they should not be exempt. The Treasurer’s argument is illogical. If land-owners are to evade income tax, they should, on his reasoning, evade land tax also. The Treasurer also suggested that in respect of a company registered and controlled outside Australia, all its money is taken out of the country, and, therefore, the company cannot ba compelled to pay absentee shareholders’ tax. I do not know that that supports the argument that the exemption favours bringing capital into this country. His next statement, relates to a company that is registered and controlled in Australia, and contains the most peculiar argument that I have ever heard submitted. He said -
The Government considers thoi, as the absentee is generally heavily taxed in his own country, and as there arc very few absentees who are shareholders in purely Australian companies, it is good policy to exempt the absentee shareholder from the Australian tax.
The Treasurer has given too many and too varied reasons. He has laboured the subject, and one argument has cancelled another. Some companies are outside the jurisdiction of Australia, and, therefore, he argues that that is a strong reason for not taxing them. Then others are within Australian jurisdiction, but because they are few in number, and, in any case, heavily taxed in Great Britain, they should be exempt from taxation. Further, he says that it is good policy to attract British capital to Australia. If the last reason is sound, and it is good policy to attract outside capital, why put forward the other reasons? He says that the ‘companies not outside Australian jurisdiction are few. If they were many would he tax them, and would he then throw aside what he thinks the sound policy of encouraging outside capital? All these reasons are given simply to buttress a case that cannot be substantiated. In justice to this country, profits earned by every company operating in Australia should be taxed, whether the shareholders are resident here or elsewhere. It is an outrageous policy to exempt absentees and to increase the tax on Australians to make up the deficiency in revenue caused by that exemption.
– There is not the slightest justification for that.
– It is simply financial imperialism run mad, and this House should not stand for that class of legislation. I ask honorable members behind the Government are they prepared to come out boldly and declare that they stand for absentees as against our own people.
That brings me to another consideration. I have repeatedly drawn the attention of the Government to certain inequities in regard to income taxation. and I shall continue to do so until they are remedied.
– Until a change of Government takes place.
– Exactly. Take, for instance, the company tax in Australia. In 1913 a flat rate of ls. in the £1 was imposed, and every shareholder, of course, pays that by virtue of being interested in a company; hut some of them receive a rebate, and others do not. The shareholders who have a taxable income receive a rebate, but those who have no taxable income receive no rebate, and pay ls. in the £1. I claim that that procedure vitiates the whole principle of income tax graduation, and abolishes exemptions as far as the latter are concerned.
– Any person who is able to invest in companies, even if the profit he receives is small, should contribute something to the revenue of the country.
– On what ground? Wealthy shareholders, who have incomes apart from that received from the company, receive the rebate, but the shareholder . with a small income receives no consideration at all. As an illustration I may cite the case of two persons, one with an income of £1,000 a year, and another with an income of £100 a year, derived entirely from dividends from the same source. The person recei ving £1,000 a year pays a rate of ls. in £1.
– He pays more.
– It is approximately 1s. The person in receipt of an income of £100 a year from the same source also pays ls. in the £1, which is most unfair.
– I do not think the honorable member is stating the position quite correctly.
– I think I am. The person who draws £1,000 a year from a company in the form of dividends - assuming the rate of ls. in the £1 to be correct-
– Receives a rebate.
– Yes- of ls. from his income taxation. The company pays ls. in the £1 on the profits, and when the profits are distributed, the shareholder receives a. rebate of ls. in the £1, and, therefore, pays no direct income tax at all, as he has paid that amount as a shareholder. Another person, who receives an income of £100 a. year from dividends, receivesno rebate whatever, because he has not a taxable income. Therefore he pays tax although he should be exempt from taxation. No one can say that that, is right. The excuse put forward is that the taxation is paid not by the taxpayer, but by the company. Let us examine the fallacy of such an assertion. How can it be said that a shareholder in a company does not pay what the company pays? A shareholder is responsible for every charge made against the company to the extent to which he is interested. If we accepted the statement at its face value, that the individual does not pay the tax because it is paid by the company, why is the proportion of tax paid by the company rebated to the shareholder in receipt of a taxable income? If the shareholder does not pay the tax, why should he be allowed a rebate? A shareholder with an income of £1,000 a year is given a rebate of ls. in the £1, because the company has paid the tax; a shareholder who has not a taxable income receives no such rebate. Under the British law a. person in receipt of £100 from dividends could, on the production of a warrant, on the basis of a. rate of ls. in the £1, receive a refund of £5.
– In New South Wales3s in the £1 is paid by companies, and there is no rebate.
– That is wrong. I again protest against the application of examples of what others are doing. The Commonwealth Government should not be guided by what other governments are doing, but should place its own house in order.
– The honorable member suggests that, as the company pays the tax, the rebate should not be given.
– I maintain that the rebate should be given to every shareholder, large or small, who has received income in the form of dividends. I do not believe in double taxation.
– The small man should be able to obtain a. refund from the department.
– The Government may remedy the injustice in whatever way itlikes. It can abolish the system of taxation at the source, and tax only the individual, which is the best method. There are, however, occasions when taxation at the source is necessary, as in the case of absentees.
I come now to another omission from the bill. No attempt has been made to readjust the wrong that has been done by the exemption of taxation upon income from bonus shares distributed from reserves, which I believe was put into operation in 1922. How long is the Government going to continue to relieve a section from taxation, whilst taxing others because they are not drawing dividends in the form of bonus shares? There are, roughly, four classes of bonus shares that I know of, which include bonus shares issued from capital assets written up, and those issued from profits of sales of capital assets. These, I think, are properly exempt from taxation, because they represent au accretion of capital, and cannot be regarded as income. There are two other classes which consist of those issued from profits put to reserve, and those issued from current profit. On the profits of a company a flat rate of ls. in the fi is paid, and when these profits are distributed as dividends they are followed into the hand of the individual, and taxed at the individual rate, on which a rebate of ls.” is allowed, as I have explained. That applies not only to cash distributions of dividends, but also to bonus shares issued out of current profits. It does not apply to bonus shares issued out of reserve. Surely there is no difference between bonus shares issued out of reserve profits - not out of accumulated capital assets - and cash dividends issued out of accumulated profits.
– Such profits have paid the company tax.
– I have said that ; but they have not paid the tax they ought to pay in the hands of the individual.
– They are never in the shareholders’ hands.
– They are in his hands when the bonus shares are issued.
– Such shareholders pay taxation on the returns from those shares.
– But does that justify the exemption ? The Treasurer contends that because a person receives bonus shares out of reserve he is taxed upon the profits that the bonus shares earn.
– They have already paid a company tax.
– What of the bonus shares issued from current profits? Cannot they be regarded as in. the same category? Have not a company’s profits paid ls. in the fi in the form of company tax? Do they not pay income tax upon the profits they earn as bonus shares?
If they are issued out of this year’s profits they are taxed; but that :’j not the case if issued out of last- – :ars profits.
– If the profits Ave made and placed to reserve, are they not charged income tax on the year in which the profits are made?
– Only at the company rate of ls. in the fi. That is the point I am making. The next year they are distributed, and a person may be liable to. 5s. in the fi, but pay nothing.
– I think the honorable member is basing his argument upon an act which has been amended. If he will refer to section 16 of the present act, he will find that the position has been varied.
– When was the act amended?
– I think iu 1924. The law concerning the distribution of the profits of a current year has since been amended.
– I do not, think it has; but that is a point which I can discuss in committee. As a further illustration, I may take the case of two persons each receiving £10,000 a year, one of whom is an individual proprietor of a business, and the other a shareholder in a public company. The individual proprietor would pay £2,400 in taxation, and the shareholder in a company, assuming that one-third of the profits were placed to reserve, would pay ls. in the £1 on that portion of them, the balance being taxed at the individual rate. One person would thus pay £2,400, and the other one, with the same income, £1,500. Persons engaged in the same class of business may pay income taxation of different amounts. Can any one justify such discrimination ?
I am in entire agreement with the provision for the valuing of sheep distinct from, the valuing of their wool. The value of the wool under the present proposal, will be included in the pastoralists’s income. If it were taken into account on the sheep’s back it would probably mean that the pastoralist would have to pay double taxation. I agree that such an exemption is reasonable and just, and removes an anomaly from the present act.
I come now to another concession, which, although 1 agree with it, does notremove an anomaly. It violates a principle of income taxation, but it is nevertheless justified. I refer to deductions for expenditure on certain improvements such as clearing scrub, &c. Undoubtedly such improvements as wire netting and wire fencing involve capital expenditure, and Parliament exempted such expenditure from taxation some time ago. Special argument can be adduced in favour of such policy, but not in favour of that which the Treasurer has submitted. He said that such improvements would lead to increased productivity, and that in consequence increased income taxation would be collected. If such an argument is reasonable, should not the same consideration be extended to a person who spends capital on the improvement of his factory, expenditure which also leads to increased productivity. Should not capital expenditure of that nature also be exempt?
– In the first case mentioned by the honorable member, the land would probably be valueless without such improvements.
– But in both cases capital expenditure would lead to increased productivity. We should do everything possible to encourage settlers to put their land to its best use, instead of allowing it to remain idle. As there are millions of acres of land in Australia not being put to any use at all, I would favour the land tax on unimproved land values being increased, and the amount of exemption under our Income Tax Act also being increased in proportion to the improvements effected. I believe in penalizing those who do not use the land to the best advantage, and encouraging those who are doing their utmost to increase the productivity of the soil. Those are the strong grounds, upon which these exemptions, can be made. The trouble with all these concessions is that they cannot be applied equitably The big man again gets the best of things. Suppose that a man with a lucrative business makes a side-line of farming, or the conduct of a pastoral property, and spends £500 in clearing his Mock. If he had an income of £5,000, he would be allowed to deduct that £500 from his income, which would make a considerable reduction in histax. Another man might have an income of only £500, from a little farm. He spends the whole, or nearly the whole, of that £500 in clearing off scrub and rubbish. Such a man, of course, would not have to pay any income tax, or very little; but in any case his taxation would amount- only to £7 or £S. Therefore, for the same service, the big man secures an advantage of, perhaps, £50 as against the £7 or £S of advantage secured by the little man. I admit that the problem is a difficult one, and that a similar difficulty applies to the concessions for children and wives.
– To overcome the difficulty it is necessary to have a graduated system.
– Exactly; a system providing a pro. rata deduction.
Then there are the exemptions for gifts, Why should the exemption be limited to gifts ®f £5 or more. The donor has cast on him the onus of proving that he made the donation on which he claims, and I certainly think that the concession should apply to amounts smaller than £5. I do not contend for a reductio ad absurdum, but the Treasurer could make the exemption more generous by giving it to those donating small sums. Very often the person who gives £1 or 10s. is more generous than the giver of £5. 1 am glad that the minimum tax payable has been reduced from £1 to 10s. I understand that the minimum in Victoria is 5s. - I do not know what it is in other States. As the States now collectboth taxes, why not make the minimum uniform? Certainly the £1 minimum was oppressive in some cases, and the alteration to 10s. will be a relief.
To sum up my argument in a few words, the bill removes some anomalies, but it does not touch greater anomalies, and injustices, to some of which I have referred. There are proposed amendments, which are necessary to safeguard the revenue. Of such we approve. Some of the concessions are reasonable. Some are not; in particular, the concession to absentee share-holders earning profits in Australia. A closer examination of the bill will have to be made in committee, and an endeavour made to close up some of the holes that have been driven into the act. Even the very measure by which we are tightening up the law will have to be examined more closely in committee. I hope that, when the bill reaches that stage, we shall have ample time to thrash out every question, because the clauses of taxation bills are not only important, but are exceedingly involved.
.- Five years ago, or thereabouts, a consolidated income tax act was passed, by this House. It was then said that that would be about the last amendment of the income tax law that would be needed for a considerable time. The bill now before the House indicates that several amendments have been found to be necessary. The Treasurer has suggested the removal of a considerable number of anomalies in the bill. Before a reduction of taxation is granted to the taxpayers of Australia, the system
Applied to its incidence should be put on a more equitable basis, which, I claim, is possible. I am not sure that there should bc a reduction, nor am I convinced that the reduction of the minimum from £1 to 10s. is justified at such a time as the present. One very reasonable and proper alteration is proposed in the bill, the absence of which has caused much heartburning in the past. When a sheep is shorn it takes about twelve months for the wool to grow again on its back. If a person buys a sheep off the shears he buys merely the sheep, not the wool. If he buys the sheep twelve months later, just before it is shorn, he buys the sheep in the wool, so that the price paid is practically double that paid for the same sheep off the shears. Hitherto the Taxation Department has merely considered the amount paid for the sheep, and has not considered the sale of the wool on its back. This bill proposes to alter that. Now, under the amendment, if a person buys the wool on a sheep’s back it is treated similarly to the wool bought in the bale, which I consider to be very proper. I am glad that the Treasurer recognizes that a sheep in the wool and one off the shears are in different categories.
– So are the store and fat bullocks.
– The purchaser has to fatten that bullock.
– And he has to feed the sheep.
– That is why he buys it more cheaply than when in the wool.
– How does the honorable member discriminate between that and the buying of a store bullock?
– If a man retains that store bullock and afterwards sells it as a fat bullock the transaction is similar to buying a sheep off the shears and selling in the wool. He merely costs it up at the low price paid, but the analogy of the bullock and the disposal of the wool is different. In the one case you may have a fat sheep with a full fleece of wool. It is the wool that counts. A nearer analogy would be the purchase of laud with timber on it. It may be the value of the timber that counts. As the landis depleted of timber the asset depreciates.
I do not agree with the Treasurer that the Income Tax Act at present provides for the minimum in administration costs except where the Federal and State departments have been brought practically under the one roof and administered by the same 3taff. Clause 13, which was referred to by the honorable member for yarra (M1*- Scullin), and which deals with the averaging system, would, if admitted, permit of great saving in administration being effected. I have prepared certain tables illustrating many cases in which injustice has been done, and demonstrating how my proposed amendment could work, and give equity within five years. I cannot understand the statement in the report of the royal commission referring to extreme injustice being caused by earmarking or watertighting the income of one year, apart from the preceding and succeeding years. The graduating of rates was agreed upon by this House, and no doubt injustices occurred where people received irregular incomes. In 1921, on a motion for adjournment moved by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay), this House considered the advisability of a five-years’ averaging of income, and agreed to the scheme. Subsequently it initiated a system of averaging, which was not on incomes and which still showed serious injustices. In a later year, thethen Treasurer, now the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) introduced a further amendment providing for certain other alterations in the averaging system. I predicted that that, also, would disclose faults, and would need amendment. The amendment now proposed leaves a tremendous lot to be desired. Disregarding the resolution by a royal commission, and what is done in other countries, this Government has decided upon the system of averaging incomes over a period of five years. That is a simple thing that could be understood by any school-boy. One man makes his income regularly, and another irregularly, but both receive the same amount over a five-years’ period.
– They do not pay the same tax.
Mr.PROWSE. - Not under the present system. My suggestion is that, seeing that we have decided upon a graduated system - as the income increases so does the rate per £1 -we should evolve a taxation which will study the taxable capacity of every citizen. If the Trea surer and I each have an income of £10,000 in five years, and he obtains his regularly and I irregularly, we have the same taxable capacity. If any method could be evolved, causing us to pay equally to the revenue, it would be fair and just, and I suggest that such a system’ could be evolved. When the present Prime Minister was Treasurer, in the Hughes Government, he produced a table showing that there was a fault in my proposed system. That occurred where an aggregated loss was assumed to have taken place over a. period of five years, the lossoutweighing the profits. Undoubtedly a system of watertighting for five years would cause that injustice to the taxpayer, but the right honorable gentleman was fair enough to admit that such a case was a rarity. It was merely a supposititious case showing a period of five years of drought, and another of five generous years. The taxpayers of Australia asked for a five-year instead of a one-year period, and when that five-year period was granted they should have been content. They asked for an average to be taken over that five-year period, and that they should be taxed according to a graduated rate. It is not unlikely that we shall meet with a case such as was propounded by the present Prime Minister; and I was conscious of such a possibility when I submitted my resolution. Prior to the right honorable gentleman making that statement, I had said -
My amendmentmmy have curtain minor defects, but it is sound in principle,and would place all citizens on the same footing, it may be contended thata man’s losses may outweigh his income, but it should be recognized that my amendment quarantines the five-year period the same as income for one year isquaran- tined to-day. If there is no income, there is no tax; and if there is any income, it is taxed in the same way as if it were in the hands of a citizen who receives his income regularly.
I did not overlook that contingency. If the Government felt that the possibility of injustice was too great, it could carry that loss on after the expiry of the period of five years. I propose to deal in further detail with this matter in committee. If, in the meantime, honorable members will examine certain tables which I have prepared, and which, with the consent of the Treasurer, have been printed in convenient form for inclusion in Hansard, they will be in a position to deal with the amendment which I then propose to move.
– Are the honorable member’s proposals now the same as those ho suggested five years ago?
– I have repeated some of them, and added others.
– Does not the honorable member think that the present method of carrying forward losses over the five years’ period is sufficient?
– If the honorable member will study the tables I have prepared, he will see the possibility of injustice being done.
– Are the figures in the tables based on real or supposititious cases ?
– The systems which have operated so far have not taken into consideration the years preceding that in which the losses occurred. If after, say, two years of profits on which income tax is paid, the third year’s transactions represent a loss, that loss can only be wiped out by future profits. Honorable members will see that, compared with a man who receives the same salary in equal instalments, such a taxpayer is unjustly treated.
I desire now te refer to the proposal, to disqualify certain partnerships in which husband and wife are associated. The definition of “partnership” should be more clearly set out in the bill itself, and not left to the interpretation of the commissioner. frequently a wife who has money in her own right invests it in her husband’s business, and rightly claims partnership with him by reason of that investment. .1 understand the Treasurer to say that if a wife lends money to her husband she is entitled only to interest on that money and not partnership profits. That does not seem just. Husband and wife may have separate rights in landed properties, and such rights should not be disregarded in this legislation. 1 agree with the proposal to allow deductions in respect of improvements to property, such as clearing and vermin-proof fencing. J. do not imagine that these deductions will seriously affect the Treasury, because it takes some years for a settler to earn a taxable income. However, there are cases in which they will benefit settlers, and, therefore, I welcome the provision. Some time ago we amended the then existing legislation to provide that money spent in vermin-proofing a property would he an allowable deduction. Strangely enough, taxpayers were then already entitled to that deduction. In Western Australia, where the State legislation does not provide for such a deduction, one taxpayer, Mr. Lindsay, M.L.A., when submitting his returns, deducted expenditure in connexion with vermin-proof fencing. The deduction was disallowed by the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in that State, but. when Mr. Lindsay took the matter before the court the Chief Justice of Western Australia ruled that the commissioner was wrong in disallowing it. Notwithstanding that decision, the taxation authorities refused to allow me a similar deduction in respect of a partnership in which I was interested. It even went so far as to refuse Mr. Lindsay a reassessment, of his income previous to the year in which he appealed. He, however, again applied to the court, and was successful in obtaining leave of the court, to test the case. Such actions on the part of a government department are not right; their effect is to cause people to attempt, to deceive the department whenever possible. A decision which ordinary citizens would recognize should be accepted by a government department. I give notice of my intention to move in committee that a new clause be inserted after clause 6.
.- It will be realized that this is largely a committee bill. I desire, in the first place, to express my appreciation of the thorough manner in which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has analysed the subject with which it deals. He has evidently given much consideration to it, and his speech has been of considerable assistance to honorable members. I endorse his remarks questioning the desirability of the proposed reduction of direct taxation. I have no objection to any reduction that is warranted ; but we cannot justify at the present time the reduction of those taxes that were specially imposed to meet war expenditure. The honorable member reminded the committee that,- although the war debt has been reduced, the interest bill has grown, and we are now paying £2,500,000 more for interest than we did in 1923. We cannot justify the removal of taxes imposed to meet war expenditure, since we have increased the burden of indirect taxation on the great mass of the people.
The chief point to consider in the present bill is the proposed exemption of absentee taxpayers. One finds it difficult to understand why special provision is made to exempt company shareholders who happen to live outside Australia. If any persons should be held liable for the payment ©f income tax, they are those who take wealth from this country and yet do not live in it. Why should they be exempt from taxation in Australia, while our own citizens, who may be share.holder”s in the same companies, are taxed? I do not think that the proposal can be justified from the point of view of equity. The honorable member for Yarra showed that it could not be urged on the ground that reciprocal legislation between Great Britain and the dominions was desirable. If we lay down the principle that persons taking wealth from this country and living abroad can escape payment of their share of the taxes, we shall be offering an inducement to capitalists, whose money is invested in Australia, to live elsewhere. That it should be proposed to exempt them from taxation seems to me to be inexplicable. I should like to hear the Treasurer further on the matter. I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra about the necessity for averaging incomes over a period of five years, in order to ascertain the rate of tax. That would be a much fairer arrangement than the present method. A taxpayer might have been receiving a fairly good income for a few years; but his earnings might suddenly decline, and he might be reduced to such a financial position in a particular year that no tax would be payable. If his income were averaged over a period of five years, no injustice would be done.
Clause 14 of the bill deals with a situation that has arisen in connexion with the New Guinea gold-fields. I recently asked a question in this chamber on this matter, and the Treasurer said that he would have the act amended so as to prevent hardship being suffered by gold-seekers in New GuineaMany persons are engaged in searching for gold there, and, as on all new fields, the miners, generally speaking, work for themselves. Usually they have not a great deal of capital behind them, and they depend upon the proceeds from sales of their gold to pay their way. The men who trade in gold make greater profit, as a rule, than do the miners themselves. From my considerable experience of gold-fields, I should say that the conditions in New Guinea are not different from those in other fields that have come into prominence in the past. The buyers ascertain the value of the gold, and pay the miners a price much below it, in order to secure for themselves a substantial commission. They also take care that the price paid to the miners enables them to meet the tax that is charged on gold shipped to Australia. They have been paying the tax levied in accordance with the value of the gold, and it is said by the Treasurer that an adjustment must be made by returning to the persons who bring the gold into Australia the amount to which they are entitled. That will not get over the difficulty, because the present law permits the buyers to “ fleece “ the men supplying the gold. The buyers can tell the producers that they are paying, by way of tax, more than they are actually charged, and they can thereby obtain a double advantage at the expense of the miners. The matter is causing a good deal of discontent on the New Guinea fields, as the following press telegram indicates-
A public meeting, held at Salamoa yesterday, unanimously passed the following resolution : - “ That we, the members of this meeting, all being interested in the production of gold’ in this territory, hereby advise all miners to hold their gold, and not ship same to Australia until Australia realizes the injustice of the imposed tax on gold shipped to Australia; and further we consider that such action by the Australian Government must force us to make arrangements to ship our gold to other countries than Australia.”
It was openly stated during the meeting that the proposed scheme of shipping gold to other countries can be financed.
– Was that motion carried after the introduction of this bill ?
– Yes. The telegram is dated Saturday last.
– Then the motion was passed in ignorance of the facts.
– I intend to show that section 14 of the act, as proposed to be amended by clause 8 of this bill, would not meet the position. It would not assist the genuine miner, although it might help certain individuals who trade in gold. The section, as proposed to be amended, will provide -
The following incomes, revenues and funds shall he exempt from income tax: - (1a) the income derived by a person from the working of a mining property in Australia or in the Territory of New Guinea principally for the purpose of obtaining gold, or gold and copper provided that in this case the output of gold shall not be less than forty per centum of the total value of the output of the mine - this exemption shall extend to dividends paid by a company out of such income; and
– After the words “ the income derived by a person from the working of a mining property iu Australia “ it is proposed to add the words “ orin the territory of New Guinea.”
– Does uot that meet the honorable member’s objection.
– No. What is exercising my mind is the proviso at the end of the proposed new paragraph n.
– That has nothing to do with gold-mining.
– If the Treasurer can show me that it has nothing to do with the subject, although it appears in the same clause, I shall be satisfied.
– I think that paragraph 1a meets tha honorable member’s point-
– If the proviso applies to the whole section, it means that the men who mine the gold will receive no benefit from the bill. I have studied the tables that have been prepared by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse). As very important principles are involved, they ought to be circulated immediately among honorable members so that they may have an opportunity to give them the consideration required, before they are asked to decide whether it would be wise to have them incorporated in the bill.
I find no fault with the proposal to allow an owner of land to deduct from his taxable income expenditure on improvements. Frequently it is necessary to expend a large sum to make land productive. On the other hand, however, I uphold the contention of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) that a great deal of first-class land in every part of Australia is not being put to its best use. Steps should be taken to compel the owners of that land to utilize it to the fullest possible extent, or pay a greater amount of taxation. The Prime Minister, of course, believes that it is a fallacy to argue that big estates ought to be subdivided into smaller areas. He has expressed the view that certain lands cannot be used for other than grazing purposes, and that if men were put on small areas they could not hope to work them successfully. It is difficult to estimate the extent to which we can reduce direct taxation, while indirect taxation continues on the up grade. A stocktaking will have to be held sooner or later. Whilst I take little exception generally to the proposals that are contained in the bill, I consider that this House ought not to allow absentees to be exempt from taxation. That provision is obnoxious, it is not based on equity, and it will do an injustice to many people whose incomes are derived from the same companies as the absentees, but reside in Australia. To obtain the benefit of the exemption, a number of persons may be induced to invest their money here and then to reside abroad for several years. I hope that when we are considering the bill in committee, the Government will agree to amend that provision.
.- I recognize that this measure can be better discussed in committee; but I wish, at this stage, to refer briefly to two matters, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to consider them carefully, and thus be in a position to give a decision upon them at a later stage. I trust that the proposals which have been advanced by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), with respect to the averaging of incomes, will receive the most careful and sympathetic consideration of the Government. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) is recognized as a student of, and an expert in, taxation matters, and his remarks are always listened to with the greatest respect. I was pleased to hear him voice his agreement with this principle, which was first propounded by the honorable member for Forrest some years ago. Although it has been slow in gaining the approval of honorable members, it appears to be fair and just to the taxpayer, whose welfare is our main consideration. The other matter to which I wish to refer is the proposal in Clause i 20 to amend section 51 of the principal act, so as to alter the procedure before the Board of Review. As honorable members are aware, appeals by taxpayers against decisions of the commissioner, are now dealt with without cost to the taxpayer. Points of law occasionally arise upon the hearing of such appeals. It is alleged that legal decisions have been given which have knocked holes into our taxation law. We cannot, on that account, quarrel with those decisions. It is only by obtaining the legal interpretation of any law that we are able to secure sound legislation. If the decision of the court shows that a law is contrary to the wish and the intention of this House, it is necessary for us to amend that law. There have been before the Appeal Board several very important cases, one of the most recent being the Thorogood case, which has had a very wide bearing upon income tax payments. In four recent cases the interpretation of the law which was given by the board was upheld by the High Court upon a reference to it by the Commissioner of Taxation. That is an indication that, generally speaking, the legal judgment of the board is sound, and that taxpayers receive protection from it even on points of law without considerable and unnecessary expense. I feel sure that honorable members would like to see that object generally effected. If clause 20 is agreed to, the procedure will be entirely altered. It states -
Tin; ‘ board shall, upon the request of the commissioner or a. taxpayer, refer to the High Court any question of law arising before the ) ma rd. mid the decision of the High Court thereon shall be final and conclusive.
If a point of law should be raised during the hearing of an appeal, it will be open to the commissioner to say, “ This matter is beyond the jurisdiction of the board,” and to have it referred forthwith to the High Court. The subsequent legal proceedings will delay the hearing of the appeal, and involve the taxpayer in heavy expenses. In view of the successful manner in which the board has so far operated, it is unnecessary to make the proposed alteration. The Government, through the commissioner, will be given a distinctly unfair advantage. It should be our aim to relieve these proceedings of expense, as far as that is possible. The amendment proposed will enable the Government to involve the taxpayer iu the expense of an appeal to the High Court. If the board is competent to handle these matters, why should the present practice be departed from? Should the Government be dissatisfied with any of its decisions, it can appeal in the ordinary way to the High Court. Surely it is more just for the Government than for the taxpayer to be put to the expense of a reference to the High Court! I wish it to be understood that I have no desire to give a taxpayer an opportunity to escape from taxation. The Board of Review at present has the power to call upon a taxpayer to pay the expenses of an appeal if it considers that the appeal is frivolous or has been made on insufficient or unjustifiable grounds. I presume that the High Court, also, would award expenses against a taxpayer in the event of a decision being given against him. The existing procedure is smooth, expeditious, and in every way satisfactory to the taxpayer. Under this proposal the powers of the board will be emasculated, and it will be deprived of a very important part of its functions, which, up to the present, it has shown itself fully capable of performing. There are on the board gentlemen who have had legal training, and the support and approval of the High Court has been accorded to their interpretation of the law. In committee I shall ask honorable members to decide whether the present practice shall continue, and I hope that the Government will not persist with its proposal.
.- I think the time has arrived when, instead of making reductions of £9,000,000 or £11,000,000 in the income taxation for the year, there should be a. substantial reduction in the indirect taxation. Income tax was first levied by Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and it was put on to meet expenditure arising out of war. Even in Britain to-day it, has been retained only to meet war expenses. As illustrating the British point of view with regard to income tax, there was one period in English history when that tax was as low as id. in the £1 on assessments that few bacl to pay. The need for a reduction in indirect taxation is obvious. It would lessen the cost of living. The man on the basic wage pays practically as much indirect taxation as a man with a fairly large income, because he must have such necessaries as food and clothing. Therefore, by reducing income tax a benefit is conferred on the man with a substantial income, but the man on the basic wage is taxed as highly as ever through the commodities which he has to buy. I cannot expect that the present Government will do anything to remedy this anomaly, because it would not be in accordance with the ideas of its supporters, but I cannot refrain from pointing out the injustice of what is now proposed. There is a large body of opinion in the community which holds that indirect taxation should be reduced. It was admitted recently by the Minister for Trade and Customs that 49 per cent, of the indirect taxation collected was virtually revenue taxation. Therefore, a reduction could bc made in that section of indirect taxation without affecting the protection afforded to Australian industries. However, the people have put this Government in power, and they will have to put up with its policy in regard to taxation. This Parliament does not give sufficient consideration to taxation. Taxation legislation is left to the end of the session, and is put through with lightning speed, so that honorable members have no opportunity of discussing it or of evolving improvements in the system. We now know the cost of the war, and our other liabilities, and it should be possible to evolve a system of taxation which would be fair to every one. Some years ago there was formed in Sydney a body known as “ The No Tax League.” As a young man I thought it a very fine thing, not that I believed we could ever manage without taxation, but I thought that a movement of this- kind might lead to a better system of taxation being thought out. There is nothing which creates greater dissatisfaction in the community than an inequitable system of taxation. I do not think that any benefit is derived from the five years’ averaging system. It is favoured by honorable members on the corner benches because they hold that it is fairer to the pastoralists, whose incomes vary as a result of droughts and fluctuating prices. It should be remembered, however, that other people besides pastoralists have to suffer the inconvenience of fluctuating incomes. There is the contractor, for instance, who might, in one particular year, be unsuccessful in getting his tenders accepted. Nevertheless, his overhead expenses, such as the maintenance of plant, go on just the same. A man pays taxation only on the income he receives. If there is a year when he has no income he pays no taxation. Sometimes men have very successful years in business, but they do not look ahead and make provision for the time when profits will be less. A man does not receive his assessment for income tax until the, year following that in which the income is earned. He may be having a bad time just when, he receives his assessment, bur, he should have made provision, when things were better, for the payment of the tax. The Commissioner of Taxation has the most uncomfortable job of any officer i n the Federal Service. Most of his customers, if I may call them so, are trying to dodge taxation, or to pay as little as they possibly can. Many of the suggested amendments of the Income Tax Act, are so involved, and open so many avenues for fraud and deception, that, were full advantage taken of them, it would be beyond the ingenuity of the Commissioner’s department to administer the act successfully. Parliament should make the Income Tax Act as simple as possible so as to lighten the work of the Commissioner and his officers. Many difficulties arise in the application of the bonus system. Some time ago one of the largest companies in Sydney induced me to go into the matter of their taxation. They had erected buildings to the value of £25,000 during the war, and they claimed that this sum should be deducted from their income as expenses. The Commissioner maintained that it was profit, although «the company pointed out that the putting of this money into new buildings created fresh opportunities for enlarging income.
The Government is continually making rebates in respect of persons who are well able to pay taxation ; but no relief is given ro those who suffer heavily under our system of indirect taxation. During the war, income taxation was increased considerably, but reductions have taken place since. I contend, not that the income tax should be further reduced; but that more consideration should be given to the poorer classes. I suggest that even the exemption might be increased. In the proposed bill are one or two anomalies, one in particular being the proposal to exempt from income taxation absentee shareholders in companies operating in Australia. It is hopeless to expect the Government to alter its attitude, because in levying taxation it must show consideration for its wealthy supporters, and, in particular, for vested interests.
– Although there will apparently be a long discussion on the bill in committee, ‘I prefer to speak on the second reading. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) referred to both large land-owners and small land-owners. 1 have heard in this House much criticism, most of it unjust, of the large land-owner. I know something about land, and I venture to say that in some of the States, at any rate, if, when motoring through the countryside, one comes across a well-kept place, adequately unproved, it will be found almost invariably that it is owned either by a-large land-owner or by someone who is becoming a large land-owner. For that he should not receive any great credit. It is perfectly natural that he should expend his money on his land, and that he should be able to improve to a larger degree than can the smaller land-owner. I am .not here to defend all large land-owners, or to criticize small land-owners; but at times I think that the large land-owner does not get anything like fair criticism, particularly from honorable members opposite. The large landowner, whatever his merits or demerits may be, has contributed very substantially to the development of the greatest industry of Australia, that in which we lead the world. Both the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) referred to a matter on which I myself have spoken previously. They drew attention to the desirability of simplicity, as far as it can be achieved, in our enactments, so that he who runs - and I suppose the taxpayer generally does run, if he can - may read. The bill contains provisions some of which should be useful and some which, although they may have no harmful effect, will nevertheless make our income tax assessment laws even more complicated than they are at present The difficulty with our taxation measures is that it is almost an impossibility for the the ordinary mau to understand them, and for that reason our Commonwealth taxation department has always been more unpopular with the taxpayer than the State department. This unpopularity is’ due, not so much to a desire to escape tax, as to the feeling of hopelessness that the taxpayer experiences when attempting to grapple with the provisions of taxation measures. Let lue give an instance. Under the bill there is to be appointed an assistant commissioner. That provision may be desirable, but the Treasurer has neither extolled nor explained it.
– Clause 3 of the bill provides for an alteration in the title of Mr. Templeton, who is at present acting as assistant commissioner. It will really facilitate his work.
– The proposed new sub-section reads - (2.) Where in this act the exercise of any power or function by the commissioner or the operation of any provision of this act is dependent upon the opinion, belief or state of mind of the commissioner in relation to any matter, that power or function may be exercised by the assistant commissioner or that provision may operate, (as the case may be) upon the opinion, belief or state of mind of the assistant commissioner in relation to that matter-
That provision is understandable, but is not unduly intelligible; there is a good deal of circumlocution about it. Whether the assistant commissioner isalways to be of precisely the same opinion as the commissioner himself is not explained ; but one can easily imagine a condition of affairs arising in which the commissioner gives a ruling according to his. opinion, belief’ or state of mind on a point which is referred to him in one State, and the assistant commissioner gives at different ruling on a similar point raised in another State, yet according to the hill the opinion, belief or state of mind of the two of them is assumed to be identical.
The provision relating to deductions for loss in any of the four years preceding that in which the income was derived may be beneficial, but it will throw more work on the department, which very often has my sympathy in carrying out its duties under our legislation. It will also increase the body of taxation experts, many of whom have been through the department itself, and to whom it is almost essential that the taxpayer should refer for advice and assistance.
Under another provision wool and sheep are to be assessed as distinct from each other, and for that the Treasurer gave no explanation. The commissioner is to assess on the market value of “ similar sheepoff shears.” It is not easy to find similar sheep. Few breeders will admit that their sheep are similar to other breeders’ sheep, and it is hard to ascertain exactly when the sheep were off shears, because shearing takes place at different periods. I suggest that these provisions will, cause the taxation office greater labour than it has at present, and the taxpayers will probably have to furnish’ more details.
With reference to income tax deductions in respect of gifts, I agree with the Treasurer that a £5 limitation is not too high. The honorable member for Yarra suggested a smaller amount. It is obvious that the poor man who gives 2s. 6d. may be paying relatively more than the wealthy man who gives £10 ; but it is impracticable to keep count of small amounts.
– A taxpayer who produces a receipt should be allowed a deduction.
– There is something to be said for that, but usually receipts are not given for small amounts.
– A person paying £1 to a hospital would receive a receipt for it.
– Larger amounts are contributed to such funds for which receipts are not obtained.
Mr.Scullin. - The onus is on the taxpayer to prove that he has contributed. He has only to produce a receipt.
– The chief difficulty is that au immense volume of work would be involved which would uot be of great benefit to the department.
– But the taxpayer has also to do a lot of work in compiling his return.
– That may be so. I have no desire to see small contributors embarrassed whilst those contributing larger sums benefit.
It was my intention to deal with the subject of absentees, and I had in advance noted some of the points raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). I do not think it at all logical of the Treasurer to claim on one hand that the absentees should bring their money into Australia, because it needs additional capital to assist the effective and speedy development of the Commonwealth, and at the same time to sponsor a bill under which absentees are not allowed any concessions or exemptions in the matter of land tax. The honorable member for Yarra approaches this matter from a different direction ; but I am sure that we agree on the point that it is illogical to claim that it is desirable to encourage the investment of capital in Australia, and to discourage absentees who want to invest money in land here. It could be claimed that the absentee who invests his capital in land is likely to be of more use to; and take a greater interest in, Australia than one who invests his money in a company.
I understand that there is a retrospective provision in the bill which I have been unable to locate. I understood the Treasurer to say, however, that owing to the Weatherley case, a clause to be retrospective to 1924 had been inserted. The Treasurer said that absolute equity in a taxation measure is not economically obtainable, and that we may all admit; but it is desirable that we should get as close as we can to equity. I have mentioned before the disadvantages of retrospective legislation, and have receivec support from other members inmy contention that it is most inequitable to establish retrospectively a state of affairs which it is claimed should have been established three years ago This is grossly unfair. There may be others apart from Mr. Weatherley who have put in notices of objection or appeals, and who under the present law should be relieved. lt is rather surprising that the Treasurer should say that the result of the Weatherley case is so contrary to the intention of Parliament, and “ has such far-reaching effects upon the revenue “ that the Government has taken the earliest opportunity to “ re-express “ the original intention of Parliament. The fact that the law was not effective shows that, it was not properly expressed, and unless one can use the word “ re-express “ as meaning to express differently, the word is quite inappropriate. Presumably, if it had not had such a far-reaching effect upon the revenue, such retrospective legislation would not have been introduced. I do not wish to weary honorable members on this point, because I have expressed my views upon it on previous occasions : but I maintain that the whole principle of retro-active legislation is most dangerous. With it, a taxpayer or citizen can never know to what extent he. may subsequently be made liable for an act which under the law at the time that he committed it was quite legal. When the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1924 was drafted, the Government had, I presume, the assistance of the Attorney-General and the Crown law officers, and what Parliament endeavoured to enact was, apparently, not enacted. The only fair thing is to amend the law now and not to make it retrospective. It is not right or reasonable for the Government to say that it meant to enact a certain law but failed to do so. The Commonwealth has been defeated in the courts, and now endeavours to override decisions of the court by retrospective legislation. I do not believe in the principle, and have spoken and voted against it on many occasions. It is seldom that an income tax measure is introduced into this chamber unless some method of defeating the law has been found. That is not right. If the taxpayers can legally defeat the department - I do not use the word “ defeat*’ in any unpleasant sense - by going to the courts they are entitled to do so. By overriding a decision of the High Court of Australia and Supreme Court of Victoria the Government is de- feating the law just as much as the taxpayer.
– At this juncture I wish to say only a few words concerning the bill. I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), who spoke subsequently, that its provisions can be more effectively debated in committee. There are, however, one or two points raised by those speakers which are, I think, worthy of emphasis before the second reading is agreed to. The measure seems to be good in parts, particularly in so far as it provides for certain concessions to primary producers.
– Can the honorable member fully understand its clauses?
– An income tax* bill in these modern times, when income taxation is based upon graduation and progression, must necessarily be complex and very difficult for laymen’ to understand. Any attempt to simplify an income tax measure is likely to reduce its equity or the possibility of its provisions applying justly to everybody. The deductions to be allowed to primary producers are fully justified, as agriculturalists and other rural workers are entitled to all the consideration they can receive at the hands of any government, particularly to the extent of being allowed to make the’ deductions provided in the bill, as well as the application of a system under which they can really average their incomes for taxation purposes. The averaging proposals in the bill, however, are not so effective as those outlined by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and elaborated by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse). If the proposals of the honorable member for Forrest are more satisfactory, they should be incorporated in the bill. There is also every justification why other . persons such as traders whose income is irregular should receive the same privilege.
– It is not limited. That is done under the existing system.
– The present arrangement does not embody a real averaging system, and is particularly hard upon the man on the land whose income is necessarily irregular. I favour the, averaging principle, and shall do all I. can to support the honorable member for Forrest if his proposal is a practical one.
The bill makes more concessions and exemptions to a particular class of absentee income earners than are contained in the present law. These further concessions are undoubtedly a blot on it. I do not know how the Treasurer can hope to justify the clause relating to the exemption of absentee shareholders, which is u’ discrimination of a most pernicious character. It provides special treatment for person’s who do not reside in the country, but draw their incomes from it. As this country protects the interests of investing absentees whose income tax is their only contribution towards the cost of government, there are no good grounds upon which the Government can justify such a provision as that embodied in the bill. I have read very carefully the Treasurer’s explanation of this clause, and it strikes me that he either does not understand the principles of taxation, or that he has attempted to mislead the House.
– I shall say that he has ‘ submitted information to the House that does not place the situation in its true light. I do not wish to do the Treasurer an injustice. He dealt with three cases. The first of these was that of a company established and registered and controlled outside Australia - a foreign company - and deriving income from Australian sources, but taking the income outside Australia and there declaring dividends. In that case the Treasurer contends the Commonwealth cannot cause the company to pay the shareholder’s tax out of his dividends because the company does not hold any money in Australia on account of the absentee. It is puerile to say that the Government cannot compel a company to pay on behalf of an absentee shareholder because the income has been removed from Australia before a dividend was declared. Some, if not all, of the States collect taxation in similar circumstances, under a most effectual system. It is true that certain obligations are cast upon the representatives of the companies, who have to look to the absentee shareholder to be recouped. The second case was that of a company established and registered outside Australia, but controlled by directors in Australia arid deriving income from Australian sources, retaining the income of the shareholder, and declaring dividends here. Such shares as might be on the ex-Australian register of the company would not be taxable, because of a recent decision by an English court, under which, if the Common wealth forced the company to pay the shareholders’ tax, it could not recover from the shareholder. One can understand that position ; but the States have coped with a similar difficulty - and the Commonwealth could do likewise - by levying against the company and allowing the company to find its own remedy against the shareholder. Such companies might have to alter their articles or memorandum of association, and a shareholder would have to submit to the company making a deduction with respect to the portion of the profits earned in Australia payable as dividends to absentees. In the third class of cases are companies established, registered and controlled in Australia, and having absentee shareholders deriving incomes from Australian sources. In that case the Government considers that, as the absentee shareholder is generally fairly heavily taxed iu his own country in respect of his full dividend, and as there are very few absentees who are shareholders in purely Australian companies, it is good policy to exempt the absentee shareholders from the Australian tax. In none of those cases has the Treasurer justified the proposal to exempt absentee shareholders. In some cases, there is a possibility of inflicting hardship on a company, by causing it to pay a tax on behalf of. an absentee shareholder when it has no opportunity of reimbursing itself. I submit that such difficulties have been overcome in the past, where companies were so registered that they were subject to both State and Commonwealth taxation. The proposal of the Treasurer to exempt a class which is not negligible, as he would have it inferred, but a large one, will cause the loss of a considerable amount of taxation to the Commonwealth, amounting to scores, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds. It would also lead to further losses. If the Commonwealth makes these proposals law, a great many shareholders in AngloAustralian or purely Australian companies resident abroad, who are not at present entitled to the concessions offered by the amendment, will seek to enjoy its advantages, and, therefore, will insist on an alteration, either in the registration of their companies or in the method of paying dividends, to bring them within the ambit of the concessions, and so obtain income tax exemption. In committee this section should be examined very thoroughly. It proposes a pernicious system which discriminates in favour of absentee taxpayers. I shall defer my further remarks to the committee stage.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8p.m.
.- I do not propose to speak at length at this stage, since I consider that we may more effectively discuss this measure in committee; but I must say that I think it is high time that our income tax assessment legislation was framed with more simplicity.
– I endorse that.
– I appreciate the difficulty which faces the Treasurer in this regard, but I contend that every Act of Parliament should be couched in such language that any ordinary man might read and understand it. I do not suppose that there is a member of this chamber who could strictly define the effect of a. single amendment that is before us.
– The Commissioner of Taxation can do it.
– That is all very well, but if a taxpayer disagrees with the interpretation of the commissioner it is necessary to go to the court for an authoritative decision. That is not as it should be. A. taxation expert of the highest standing in the community wrote to me to this effect -
The drafting of the Income Tax Assessment Bill is a work of art, and it is difficult to say what some of it means. Section 14, amending section6, is an amazing bit of work, and after several hours’ study I do not know what it means.
Can any honorable member explain to me the meaning of proposed new section 17. which appears on page 7 of the memorandum which has been placed before us? Enormous difficulty will arise in determining the value of sheep in the wool “sold or otherwise disposed of by one person to another.” It appears to me that the value of the wool will be the decisive factor, and, in the end, the commissioner will be the judge. The object of our legislation appears to be to enable the commissioner to delve into every detail of the commercial life of our taxpayers, and that should not be necessary for the purpose of assessing their income taxation. I have looked with some care also at the proposed new sub-section which deals with deductions for losses. I may be obtuse, but I cannot fully understand it, although perhaps it is quite simple to somepeople. So far as I can understand the amendments, they embody certain principles which should have been placed on our statute-book years ago. It is unfair that persons who are in receipt of a regular annual income should pay less income taxation than persons in receipt of the same income over a period of years. I support the amendment of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse). It might be desirable to appoint a committee of, say, the honorable member for Forrest, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and the Treasurer to consider these several schemes which have been propounded and advise us as to the beat method of dealing with this matter. It might be a good thing to fix a five-year period and strike off the fir3t year, year after year, but whatever may be the method adopted it should be made abundantly clear that full provision is allowable for losses, and that any man who is engaged in an industry in which heavy losses may be sustained in one year and big profits made in another, should not pay any more income taxation over a given period than a. person who is in receipt of a regular yearly income, which in that period reaches the same total. In the report of the Taxation Commission particulars are given of a pastoral company which ineven years paid in Commonwealth land tax, irrespective of any State taxation, more than its total profits for the period. That shows that there is something radically wrong with our method. Such an imposition is grossly unfair. We should do our best to ensure that the taxation will fall equitably on all sections of the community. Primary producers deserve special consideration, for they may lose in one bacl year more than their total profits in a preceding good year. The returns of some ordinary business men fluctuate a good deal, but not so greatly as do those of primary producers.Iwish now to discuss a new phase of the subject. There has been a good deal of discussion in Australia lately as to whether shareholders in limited companies who live outside of the Commonwealth should be compelled to pay taxation on the incomes they derive from companies which operate in Australia. As a member of the Motion Picture Industry Royal Commission, I have been somewhat perturbed at the methods adopted by the American film-producing companies to escape taxation from the profits they make in Australia. They form subsidiarycompanies in Australia to which they allow an average of 35 per cent. of their gross proceeds to meet all expenses. The other 65 per cent. is sent to the United States of America as rent, which it undoubtedly is ; but it is also profits, and is not taxable here. The commission has been considering whether it could make a recommendation to Parliament to ensure that this money shall be taxed. But in my investigations I have come across something that needs far more urgent attention than this. If there is one thing that Australia needs more than another, it is capital to develop the country. Everything that we can do to encourage capital to come here should be done, and we should do nothing that will have the effect of driving capital away. I have been reading in the last report of the Melbourne Stock Exchange a good deal about the operations of various tin companies whose stocks are quoted on the exchange. The greater proportion of the capital invested in these companies is Australian. Huge profits have been made recently in various tin-mining ventures in the Malay States and elsewhere in the East. The Assam Kambu ng Company, with a paidup capital of £100,000, has paid £140.000 in dividends, most of which has come to Australia; but not a penny of income tax has been paidonit. The paid-up capital of the Kampang Kamuntung Company is £140,000, and it has paid £542,500 in dividends, none of which is taxable here.
Dr.Nott. - Do the dividends come to Australia ?
– I understand that most of them come here. The dividends paid by such companies which have come under my notice have totalled more than £1,000,000, but we have not received a penny of income tax on them, although they have nearly all come here.
– It is a direct encouragement to export money.
– That is so; yet we have many mining shows in Australia in which the money could be invested.
– If such dividends were taxed they might be invested abroad.
– I think they are much more likely to be invested in Australia.
– They would have to come here some time as income.
– That is so. I was rather anxious to do something to ensure that the film-producing companies should pay taxes on the money they earn in Australia, but it is far more important, I think, that the lucky persons here who profit from investments in these tin-mining companies - and the same thing may be said of many fortunate investors in rubber companies - should be obliged to pay reasonable taxation on the money they earn from their outside investments. It may be that they are already taxed on this money in the countries in which the profits are made, but I think we could provide for some allowance to be made in respect of such taxation. The present system is a direct encouragement to these people to invest their capital in mining propositions abroad. We have many mining shows here which could be developed if this money were kept in Australia, though the Government, by the imposition of high duties, is doing its best to destroy their chances of success. The Prime Minister has said that if we decided to tax income derived from these sources, we should have to alter our whole system.
Hehas told us that Great Britain’s rule, in these matters, is to “follow the flag.” I do not know what that means -
– It means that they tax moneys earned within the Empire.
-It seems to me to be only reasonable that persons who enjoy all the privileges of living in Australia should be obliged to pay taxation on the profits they derive from their Australian money which they have invested abroad. The reports of these companies reveal that they do not spend very much of their money in Australia.
– The British Government taxes the income which British citizens earn in Australia.
– I am convinced that we should do something to ensure that this money shall be taxed. Surely the honorable member for Yarra will agree with me that it is only a fair thing that, as we have to pay taxation on our income that we earn in Australia, our fellow citizens who have invested their money in these outside mines should be obliged to pay taxation on the money it earns for them?
– I agree with the honorable member.
– I have asked the Crown Law Department to frame an amendment for me to meet the situation.
– Does the honorable member intend to move an amendment?
– I certainly do if I can get the information from the department in time.
-Was the honorable member informed that it would be possible to frame the amendment to meet the situation?
– I was. I do not know, of course, whether the proposed amendment will be acceptable to the Government. I join with the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. DuncanHughes) in urging the Government to discontinue the practice of malting legislation of this character retrospective. If we find that we have made a mistake in any particular year, let us correct it as soon as we get an opportunity to do so; but do not let us penalize people because of it. In conclusion, I again urge the Government to do its best to simplify the wording of our taxation legislation. It is notright that we should have taxation experts earning large incomes for simply preparing returns* for taxpayers. The law should be so clearly expressed that ordinary producers and business men could complete their returns without expert assistance.
.- I cordially support the bill, in so far as it is designed to make income taxation more equitable than it has been in the past, and to remove anomalies and hardships; but I confess that I am lukewarm in my endorsement of the reduction of the income tax by 10 per cent. As I see it, it will eventually confer no benefit on income taxpayers - certainly none on industry - and, since it will be replaced by indirect taxation, it will inflict great economic injury. If this were a straightout reduction of income or any other taxation I should heartily approve of it; but it is merely shifting from direct to indirecttaxation. I do not know that I could illustrate more aptly the difference between these two forms qf taxation, where a heavy tax is to be raised, than by reference to the debate to-night, and to most of the clauses of the bill. I have listened to one honorable member after another endeavouring to suggest amendments to make income taxation more equitable, and, as far as possible, to remove the anomalies and hardships. One gathers from the debate and from the bill itself that direct taxation, and especially income taxation, has been reduced to a science; but, when one considers the great load of indirect taxation that is borrie by the people, one finds that science and system are impossible of application. Indirect taxation is flung without discrimination upon consumption goods. Direct taxation is scientific; it represents a sincere endeavour to tax according to ability to pay. This subject is of first class economic importance to Australia, and at the risk of wearying honorable members 1 shall summarize the various aspects of direct taxation. We may begin with the . principle of the exemption from taxation of those earning low wages. Exemption is not given as a political sop to voters, but as a recognition of the principle that it is uneconomic and hurtful to tax a subsistence wage, because either the tax is passed on, or moral and physical hurt is done to those who are taxed. Then we have to differentiate between earned and unearned income. We have deductions for children, deductions for insurance premiums, and deductions of other kinds. Let us take the deductions for children, and consider what happens to the family man and to his children under a system ‘of indirect taxation by means of revenue ditties. I am not speaking to-night of protective duties. We are told by the Minister for Trade and Customs that the bulk of our taxation through the tariff is revenue taxation. Under income taxation the taxpayer receives an allowance for his children ; but, under the infamous revenue tariff’ system which this Parliament is practising to a greater extent than any other Parliament in the world, the larger the family of the taxpayer the greater is the burden -to be borne by him. A man with a wife and five children literally pays under our main system of national taxation four or five times as much as a single man. While we have this hideous system in operation, we are at the same time flirting with childhood endowment. 1 should like to contrast Australia’s position and economic conditions with those of Canada. In my opinion, one of the main reasons for Canada’s easier economic and more prosperous manufacturing and general industrial position is that she does not, tax the necessaries of life as heavily as we do in Australia. Canada, with a population of 9,400,000, raises nearly £37,000,000 per annum through customs and excise, while Australia, with a population of 6,000,000,1 raises’ £44,800,000. In other words, Canada’s per capita taxation through customs and excise is £3 18s , while ours is £7 3s. 9d. Australia’s indirect tax on the necessaries of life at the bottom rung of the industrial ladder is 91 per cent, higher than that of Canada. 1 do not say that Canada’s position in regard to manufactures is due entirely to that; but it is in the main, and so long as Australia, continues to tax the necessaries of life as heavily as it now does our industrial position will be bad. Australia is practically unable to export a single manufactured article. I think that our total exports include only 2 or 3 per cent, of manufactured goods, while Canada’s exports in 1924 included 40 per cent, of manufactured goods. She does it, possibly, to some extent, by reason of higher efficiency on the part of employers, and, possibly, to some extent by longer working hours and more piece-work ; but she does it also largely because her taxation of the necessaries of life is substantially lower than ours.
– She has cheaper power.
– I know that that is a factor in the cost of manufacture, but it is relatively a nominal percentage. Canada’s position is worthy of the consideration of the Government and the House. Much has been said on the subject of our adverse trade balance. Honorable members may be interested to know that, during the four years ended 1926-27, Canada had an average annual balance of exports over imports to the value of £44,000,000v In other words, her economic position is incomparably better than ours, and I largely put it down to the fact that she does not commit the fatal mistake of placing an excessive, and, as I see it, unnecessary tax upon the commodities necessary to life. I shall endeavour to -explain how this indirect taxation as compared with direct taxation falls. I shall take the position of the farmer, because, as I have said before, although I represent a city constituency, I regard the primary producer as the economic sheet anchor of the country. From the peak year in income tax - 1920-21 - up to and including 1926-27, a farmer on a net taxable income of £500 per annum was relieved, by successive reductions of income tax to the extent of £5 2s. lOd. During that period, however, the indirect taxation through customs and excise has been increased by £1 6$. per capita, so that a farmer with a wife and three or four children is paying more taxation to-day than when we commenced these reductions of income tax. He is paying on the average £6 10s. more, by way of indirect taxation, than he had to pay in 1920-21.
– That is based only on tho actual increase in customs revenue.
– Yes; but we know that the man on the basic wage, inasmuch as his wage is based on the cost of living, escapes most of the indirect taxation, and the farmer therefore bears his own share of the load as well as the shares of others. If there is one class of taxpayer that does not escape, it is the primary producer. He has no means of passing on the increased cost of living. I have no hesitation in saying that although the average farmer, with a wife and family of four, who is in receipt of £500 per annum, has had his income tax reduced by £5 2s. lOd. since 3 920-21, he has had his total taxation increased during those years by not less than £20. In this matter I am not concerned with either the rich or the poor taxpayer. I am considering only the economic life of Australia as a whole. I should like to indicate to the House how, under the system of incometax reduction, very wealthy people, who are surely entitled to no relief at all, are escaping from the payment of large amounts of taxation. I shall give an extreme illustration of that, and to me it is very interesting as well as most unsatisfactory. In 1920-21 - the peak period in income taxation - there were 23 individuals in Australia who paid tax on individual incomes of £100,000 a year and upwards, and they paid in the aggregate £626,000. Nobody will say that it was a hardship for them to pay a stiff income tax; but, owing to the successive reductions up to 1926-27, they have since been relieved of taxation to the extent of £172,000 a year. That would be right enough, if that large sum had not been taken from the top and put in the form of indirect taxation into the cogs of the machinery at the bottom. As I said in emphasis of this point, in dealing with the budget, the persons receiving these nominal reductions of income taxation, are getting no relief at all in the long run, because, the increased cost of necessities, due to revenue duties, raises the cost of living, and, in turn, the basic wage. That puts up the manufacturing costs, and raises the price of commodities. That limits the turnover, and the profits to capital. Therefore, what looks like relief is not relief at all, even to the individual taxpayer, and does great economic hurt to the whole of industrial Australia. It is claimed that these revenue duties are not placed upon the necessaries of life, but more or less upon commodities that we . do not purchase unless we wish, and that may, therefore, be. regarded as luxuries. That is an exceedingly difficult proposition to establish. Let us consider the duties that are imposed on motor chassis.
– Order 1 The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– This reduction in income tax is made possible only by increasing indirect taxation. I am endeavouring to show that indirect, taxation is the greater evil of the two.
– I suggest that the honorable member should not go too deeply into details.
– I have heard . itstated that motor cars are luxuries. My answer to that is that practically everything which is consumed in the average Australian household to-day is transported at some stage on chassis that are propelled by petrol. It is exceedingly difficult to prove that in other than a few lines .excessive revenue duties do not influence the cost of living and of production. I realize that I am speaking more or less to deaf ears on this question ; but I have the satisfaction of knowing that my opinions are supported by the greatest economists and practical financiers in the leading countries of the world. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the foremost financial and economic brains in every country are applying themselves to this question of taxation, and its increasing magnitude has raised it to a position of infinitely greater importance than it has ever previously held. If I am a pioneer in this matter in this House, I claim to be pioneering along the track of truth. There is no greater obstacle in the path of those industries, for the benefit of which we impose protective duties, there is not greater’ handicap to the great policy of protection to which we all subscribe, than the evil effect which excessive revenue duties have upon the cost of manufacture and production generally.
– Order ! The honorable member is now distinctly out of order.
– I have no more to say.
.- Certain statements Lave been made during this debate which call for a reply, and I shall endeavour to perform that function. Every person knows that this Government has brought about a reduction in direct taxation. It is a, moral certainty that no man who has benefited from the reduction would care to see that taxation re-imposed. It must be beneficial; otherwise the people would not, clamour for it. If any honorable member wishes to be satisfied on that point let, him ask the graziers, particularly those who hold areas in the back country that I represent, whether they appreciate the reductions which have been made. At the present time direct taxation is only 8 per cent. greater than when it was first imposed. We have been told that there has been a. corresponding increase in indirect taxation. Honorable members opposite would do well not to stress that aspect, because those whom they claim to represent obtain from the Arbitration Court increases in wages that counterbalance anything additional they are called upon to pay by way of indirect taxation. Having consistently reduced direct taxation, the Government is not now collecting as much revenue as it was formerly from that source, because it does not require it. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) stated that the loss of revenue as a result of this amendment of the act would amount in the case of income tax to £1,300,000. That is a. giving up of revenue; it certainly cannot be termed a loss. If we are collecting a greater revenue than we require, we shall commit a crime if we continue that practice.
– TheGovernment ought to reduce its indebtedness.
– The war debt has been reduced to the extent of £36,000,000. We have increased our indebtedness in other directions, but the total at 30th June last was only £2,000,000 greater than it was four years ago, and is all accounted for by fixed assets such as telephone and other postal works. Honorable members opposite say we should not reduce the taxation but hold it for use, though money in the hands of the people is always put to better use than money in the hands of the Government.
Let us consider what was the position when taxation was at its peak. The highest Commonwealth rate was then8s. 6d. in the £1, and the highestState rate about 4s. 3d. in the £1, a total of 12s. 9d. in the £1. If the Commonwealth had set out to give effect to its financial arrangements with the States, and to make provision for increased oldage pensions payments out of direct taxation, the revenue from that source would have had to be increased by 50 per cent., bringing the total to 16s. 9d. in the £1. If any person were to assert that industry could bear such a burden, he would not be believed. The Government reduced direct taxation because the people clamoured for it, and it was necessary that industry should be given that relief. During the regime of the Denham Government in Queensland, members of the Labour party argued that finance was the test of government, and that taxation should be reduced because the man who paid it passed it on. If that is so, it follows that any reduction in direct taxation must confer great benefit. Country people are not able to pass on taxation.
Therefore, they are benefitted by any reduction, because they then have a greater amount to spend on developmental works. When taxation is high, less money is available for expenditure on those works, and consequently there are fewer opportunities for giving employment. If honorable members were to travel through the back country of Queensland at the present time, they would find that on account of high taxation the development is not as great as it should be, in regard to not only stock but also improvements. The people will not carry out improvements, for the simple reason that the Governments of both the Commonwealth and the State - and particularly the latter - take from them more than they should. That was particularly the case during the war, and has been continued by the States but reduced by the Commonwealth. When a man makes money, he does not dig a hole in his back yard and bury it. Every penny he receives he places again in circulation. I defy any honorable member to point to a means by which indirect taxation may be reduced.
– By making the tariff effective.
– That implies that it should be made absolutely prohibitive. In such a case the man who lives in the country would be asked to pay twice as much as he now pays for the goods that he buys. There is no way of reducing this so-called indirect taxation.
– It can be reduced easily enough.
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) would suggest the withdrawal of the duties. If they were only halved our imports would be doubled, and the revenue would be equally as great as it is to-day, and we would be faced with great unemployment and the only people to benefit would be the foreign importers. The real remedy lies deeper, as I suggested in my speech on the budget.
– That has not been our experience.
– The Commonwealth has been collecting too much revenue. It now proposes to give a portion back to the people in the only feasible way, by a reduction of direct taxation.
– Is the present system perfect?
– By no means. No taxation system, either State or federal, can be perfect; every one will contain some anomaly. I have some knowledge of taxation matters, and frequently I and the institute of whichI am a member disagree on certain points. It is not possible to obtain agreement among either a small or a large body of men in regard to the methods that should be adopted in the levying of direct and indirect taxation. All that the Government can do is to rely upon the advice of its experts in the Taxation Department. That department has officers who have grown up with the taxation systems of the Commonwealth and the States. There are also outside experts who are employed by practically every large employer. The Graziers’ Association in Queensland has a taxation committee, which has studied schemes and made recommendations. I have received from that association a letter stating that it is in entire agreement with these proposals of the Government. It is impossible for honorable members to understand thoroughly all the points that are involved in taxation legislation. Perhaps I am more favorably situated than others, because a careful study and knowledge of them happens to be necessary to me as a means of livelihood; but even I have not as thorough an acquaintance with the matter as I would desire. Therefore, we must accept the advice of the departmental experts. The system whereby people were taxed each year on their profits, without reference to any losses which might have been made, was quite unfair.I have a report here issued by the Land Settlement Advisory Board, a body which was appointed by the present Labour Government in Queensland. In this report instances are quoted in which small landholders have had to pay more in taxation in the last few years than they actually made during that period. I do not think any one can deny that a reduction in direct taxation will confer benefits upon the people affected.
– The trouble lies with the system.
– It is necessary then to evolve a proper system. No system is perfect. I have worked out every system I have heard of, but have never yet found one that is perfect. It does not matter bow apparently good a system may be, it is possible to arrive at different conclusion’s by working out different sets of figures. From one set it can be shownthat the taxpayer derives a benefit, while from another he is apparently subjected to a hardship. This is especially the case with any system if judged over a short period of years, but most systems, taken over a long period of years, work out fairly well. I commend the Government, on introducing this bill. I am sure everybody throughout the whole country will welcome it. for it is a long way ahead of anything wehave yet had. Taxation must be reduced, and this is the only way in which it can be done.
– [8.50].- When the subject of taxing wartime profits was being considered, at the initiation of this system of direct taxation by the Commonwealth, we were told by some honorable members that there were no wartime profits. It took Parliament six weeks in Melbourne to decide whether there were any wartime profits, and whether there was anything that should be taxed. We heard a great deal at that time about those who were raking in illicit gains during the war, and from other sources we heard pitiful tales about those who were not able to make any profits at all owing to the uncertainty of trade consequent upon the war. Everything that could possibly be said was brought forward to protect those who were bleeding the Empire during the most crucial period of its history. It took Parliament six weeks to find out that there were any war profits to tax. Eventually Parliament did act, and the Commonwealth Government, in a munificent mood, said to the war-time profiteers, whom it was proposed to tax, “ Give up 75 per cent. of your war-time profits, and you can keep the other 25 per cent.” Looking back over the war period it can now be seen how well these traders did out of the war. It was on that occasion that the present Postmaster-General said that you could put a cannon at the top of Flinders Lane, and shoot all the profiteers in Australia. During the war there came the income tax proposals. Prior to this the then honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Sharpe) had advocated seriously, as a measure of equity, that bachelors should be taxed. He was laughed out of court for having suggested anything of the kind. The peculiar thing was, however, that when the income tax proposals were put into force there actually was a bachelor tax embodied in them. There was a minimum tax of £1 imposed, and in some cases that amounted to 100 per cent. of the taxable income of a single man. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has used a number of specious arguments on the subject of taxation. Every argument that can be advanced is brought forward for the purpose of showing that customs taxation does not fall more heavily on working class families than on those of other classes. But everybody knows that indirect taxation falls most 1 heavily on the man with the largest family. That has always been true, and it is true to-day. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) says that the working man does not pay the tax; he goes to the Arbitration Court and gets an increased wage. As a matter of fact, he goes to the Arbitration Court to maintain that standard of living to which he is entitled, which is based on the lowest amount that will fit him to continue as a unit in industry. Personally, I am not satisfied with the Arbitration Court, because, while it fixes the reward that the person on one side in industry receives - that is, the wages of the worker - it does not fix the profits which the employer may receive. It never asks how much profit the employer is making out of the minimum wage which the court fixes. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) speaking in this House on 22nd July, 1915, said-
There is an indiscernible process of filtration in taxation which eventually works down to bedrock, which is the working man; and the working man whether he be a primary producer, or in a secondary industry, earns the wherewithal for the taxpayer who pays the tax.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 November 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19271128_reps_10_117/>.