7th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether it is not a fact that at the present time soldiers’ pensions are liable to income tax, and, if so, whether such’ steps will be taken as will prevent that taxation ?
– This is a question which my colleague, SenatorPearce, points out should be addressed to the Treasurer. I will see that the question is submitted to the Treasurer, and his consideration invited thereto.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether it is a fact that the Australian, troops were withdrawn from the fighting line in France for three months and their place taken by British troops?
– I told the honorable senator yesterday that I would ask the Prime Minister for a copy of his actual remarks, and I promised on its, receipt to reply to the question. I have not yet received the information.
– Arising out of the answer, may I say that this morning I put the question in a different form, so that there would be no necessity for the Minister to await the Prime Minister’s reply? I asked a simple question, which I thought the Minister might be able to answer, and that is whether the Australian . troops were withdrawn from the Front for three months and their place taken by British troops.
– I ask the honorable senator to give notice of the question.
asked the Honorary Minister, upon notice - ;
– The answer is- 1 and 2. The question of reorganization in the price-fixing machinery is now receiving the consideration of the Government.
asked the’ Honorary
Minister, upon notice -
– The answer is-
Negotiations are proceeding with the British Government, and the matter is under consideration by the various Commonwealth agencies, particularly the wheat agencies.
asked the Minis ter representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
If so, will the Minister representing the Prime Minister inform the Senate -
– The answers are - 1.Yes.
Yes. This is the First Supplement to the Manual, 3. (a) Original Volume. - An agreement was entered into with Mr. Parker to print 2,000 copies at a cost of £308 6s. 8d. He was to act alsoas publisher, and undertake the business of advertising, sales, &c, the Manual to be sold at 7s. 6d. per copy, out of which the Commonwealth would receive 5s.1d., and the publisher 2s.5d. to cover advertising, sales, distribution,c. First Supplement. - 1,000 copies, to be printed at a cost of £196 17s. 6d.; the price of the supplement to be 5s. The difference between the cost of production, viz., 3s.11½d. and the amount realized on each copy, 5s., to be shared equally by the Commonwealth Government and Mr. Parker. The Government Printer was asked whether he could undertake the publication of the volume, but replied that, as his office was extremely busy at the time, he preferred not to handle it. His opinion was, however, sought as regards Mr. Parker’s quotations, and, in each case, he advised that such were reasonable.
Motion (by Senator Millen) agreed to-
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to make provision for the repatriation of Australian soldiers.
Motion (by Senator Milled) agreed to - ,
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to repeal the Daylight Saving Act 1916.
Debate resumed from 12th July (vide page 122) on motion by Senator Plain -
That the following Address-in-Reply be agreed to: -
ToHis Excellency the Governor-General.
May it please Your Excellency -
We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
– In looking through the twenty- three paragraphs in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, it is to be noted that as usual it is couched in very vague and indefinite terms, but (there is sufficient here to show that apparently the Government do intendto go on with some work during the present session.
I particularly welcome the paragraph which states that America has come into the European conflict.. I do not know whether this paragraph was responsible for the action of the Government with regard to recruiting or not; but, personally, I hail the advent of America into the European conflict with very great satisfaction indeed. I look to the American people to bring to bear a degree of energy, initiative, and ability which will have the most beneficial results. I quite realize that the war is not won, in fact, I am of the opinionthat the power of Germany is still almost unimpaired. The cabled information which has reached us during the past few days seems to indicate that, while The Germans . are not making very much progress on the Eastern Front, nor very much progress on the Western Front, they are still capable of causing considerable trouble. I have no doubt whatever as to what the ultimate result will be. At the same time I do not regard the end of the war as being in sight; therefore, the advent of the United States of America, with all the vast resources of that great country, to the side of the Allies is, to me, a matter of very great congratulation. I have no doubt butthat it will result in greatly shortening the duration of the war. I look to the United States of America particularly to be able to supply a very large number of aeroplanes, and all the most up-to-date machinery which may be required, and, generally speaking, to render great assistance.
The paragraph proposing to deal with the restriction of sport is one which will have to be considered very carefully. The number of sporting people who have gone to the Front is probably just as great as thenumber of people who have been drawn from any other section of the community. If any proposal is made by the Government to abolish or to curtail sport, it will require to receive very careful . attention.
This document contains a number of paragraphs which are very interesting so far as they go, but there is one paragraph in particular concerning which I wish to make a few remarks -
A Railways Bill will be submitted to you, and Bills to make certain amendments in the Defence Act, the Post and Telegraph Act, and the Trade Marks Act.
In regard to the Railways Bill, no information is submitted, but I hope that the Government will take into consideration the question of the railway gauges in Australia. As a matter of defence, it is of the very first importance that the Australian railway gauges should be uniform. This may not be considered as a question of vital and pressing importance, but it is quite impossible * to say how the war may develop. Therefore, in the event of any serious trouble occurring, it would be of the utmost value to be able to expeditiously transfer men and material from one end of the Commonwealth tlo the other. At the present time, with ,the almost innumerable breaks of gauge, an operation1 of that kind would be hindered very greatly. There is not very much inconvenience caused to the ordinary passenger traffic, because travellers have time to spare. But in the transfer of a considerable body of troops, the inconvenience would be felt very much, while the inconvenience of transferring material would be a still more difficult problem, apart from the loss of time that would result from the congestion of traffic. There is another view of the situation. The rolling-stock of one State, Victoria, for instance, is quite unsuitable for the railway lines of New South Wales, the break of gauge being a. fatal barrier to its use in the mother State. I know that the work of unifying the gauges will be costly, but the longer it is delayed the more expensive will it become. It will be remembered that, when each State had absolute home rule, and when they each adopted differing fiscal policies, it was then deemed injurious, from a State point of view, to be able to transfer goods from one State to another, and, from that viewpoint, the break of gauge may have been regarded as desirable. But since Federation it has been recognised that the free exchange of commodities throughout the Commonwealth is not. after all, prejudicial to the interests of the several States, and, unfortunately, this break of gauge seriously hampers this being done. I may be allowed to point out that, when railway construction was first undertaken in
Australia, a private venture, known as the Sydney Railroad - Company, decided, in 1850, upon the 5-ft. *-in. gauge. This decision was communicated to Victoria and South Australia, and both these States agreed to adopt the same gauge. But, unfortunately, the Sydney Railroad Company changed its engineer, and with him went the idea of a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. In 1852 an Act was passed approving of the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge for New South Wales, but as Victoria and South Australia had, by that time, entered into some obligations with regard to rollingstock, and had undertaken some constructional work, they refused to adopt the 4-ft. 8J-in., and went ahead with the original gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. Queensland, for various, reasons, would neither adopt the 4-ft. 8J-in. nor the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, but decided on the narrower line of 3 ft. 6 in. This policy was indorsed by Western Australia and Tasmania, and by South Australia for the Northern Territory lines. This inconvenience of the break of gauge was not seriously felt until the railway lines of each State approached the borders. It was not until 1883 that the Victorian railway was connected with the New South Wales line at ,Wodonga, and then the difficulties of the varying gauges became at once apparent. In 1887 the last section of the Victorian line to Serviceton was completed, but, as South Australia and Victoria had each the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, no inconvenience resulted. In 1888 the New South Wales line was brought alongside the 3-ft. 6 -in. Queensland railway at Wallangarra, where passengers and goods had to be transferred, and in 1889, by the completion of the Hawkesbury Bridge, the New South Wales line extended from Wallangarra to Albury. It was at once evident then that steps should be taken to make the gauges uniform, but the question of cost and apportionment of the liability stood in the way. No State, was prepared to pay the cost of altering its gauge to that of any other State, and up to the present time, unfortunately, nothing of a practical character has been done. In 1887, at a conference of Railways Commissioners of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, the cost of altering the gauges to 4 ft. 8$ in. was estimated at only £2,360,500. At the present time this sum appears to be a mere unconsidered trifle, but in 1897 the States were not prepared to undertake the work. At that time the estimated cost of altering the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge to the 5-ft. 3-in. was £4,260,000. In 1912 a Premiers’ Conference was held, but still nothing was done. Later in the same year there was another conference, and it was ascertained then that the cost of altering all the lines to 4 ft. 8£ in. would be £37,164,000, while the cost of altering them to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge would be £51,659,000. At a Premiers’ Conference in 1915, it was decided, almost unamimously, that the” matter should have further consideration, and it was resolved that two railway experts from outside should be appointed to report., first, upon the need; secondly, upon the suitability; thirdly, upon the method; fourthly, upon the gauge; and fifthly, upon the cost of a- uniform railway gauge throughout the Commonwealth. It is to be regretted, more especially in view of the existing war, that the Government has not announced a definite policy upon this important question. It does not seem to me i that the alteration of the gauges is of such great magnitude as would appear from the figures I have quoted ; but I am not an engineer, and, therefore, I do not feel quite competent to express a definite opinion upon that point. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the thirdrail demonstration at ^Tocumwal some time ago, and I must say that I, for one, was not at all favorably impressed with the idea; and, so far as I could learn from the engineers present, not one of them approved of the scheme of a third rail being permanently laid in order to get over the difficulty.
– Evidently you did not1 talk to very many of the engineers then.
– Yes I did; and every engineer I came in touch with expressed himself as adverse to the scheme.
– A third rail would only bring the lines to the narrow gauge. It would no.t affect the broad gauge.
– The proposal was to insert sometimes1 one and sometimes two rails between it he wide gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. If it were proposed to bring the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge to the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, it would mean the laying of another rail, and, similarly, a third rail for a reduction of the gauge from 5 ft. 3 in. to 4 ft. 8£ in., so that, instead of having one pair of rails, there would be additional rails for the 3-ft. 6-in. and the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauges. Apart from the complicated interlocking system required, even at ordinary sidings, a proposal of that kind would be found to be absolutely unworkable.
– It hae been proved to be workable. Rolling-stock crossed the points at a speed of 60 miles an hour.
– The system would also be liable to a very considerable amount of danger, more especially at depots and large stations where much traffic is handled. A proposal to lay a third rail at the Sydney railway station would not be entertained by any competent engineer for a moment.
– It would not be required there.
– Well, a scheme to lay a third rail to bring the Victorian gauge to 4 ft. 8 J in., in the railway yards at. Flinders-street, or Spencer-street, Melbourne, would not be entertained for a moment by any engineer. It might be quite possible to do this at small sidings where there is plenty of room, but it would be quite unworkable at important stations. So far as I know, the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge is recognised as the standard in Great Britain and elsewhere. There are, no doubt, exceptional cases where the gauges are wider or narrower, but I believe 4 ft. 8£ in. is regarded by engineers as the standard and the most suitable for all railway work. The Commonwealth, when it decided to con truct the transcontinental line, had no doubt at all upon this point, with the result that the gauge of the Commonwealth railway is the same as ‘the New South Wales lines’, and this, no doubt will be the gauge for the line to be built from Port Augusta to Broken Hill, to connect with the New South Wales 4-ft. 8-J-in. system now being extended from Condobolin. I do not suppose that the authorities will insist upon the mails from the eastern centres being taken around via Adelaide and Melbourne. It is desirable to minimize costs in matters of that sort, and I believe that end will be attained by the completion of a 4-ft. 8-J-in. line from Port Augusta to Broken Hill. The fact that the Government has adopted a 4-ft. 8-in. gauge seems to indicate that that will be the standard ultimately to be adopted throughout the
Commonwealth. It would, perhaps, not be of much importance so far as Tasmania is concerned if the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge were allowed to remain there, but if in any military trouble the whole of the Tasmanian rolling-stock were captured at Hobart, it would be useless for us to send over from the mainland 4-ft. 8½-in. rolling-stock, unless Tasmania had adopted the uniform gauge, so that even in that State the gauge should be widened as soon as possible.
– To whom in Tasmania would you ship our surplus 4-ft. 8½-in. stock - to the enemy?
– Some of the island might still be in our possession.
– If all the Australian lines were converted to the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge we should have plenty of surplus rolling-stock available, and be glad to get rid of it by sending it to Tasmania, or anywhere else.
– No doubt there is agood deal to be said from the standpoint of economy in favour of altering the whole lot to the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge ; but I understand that engineers generally are against that. Queensland, I believe, adopted the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge mainly because it is less costly to construct than the 4-ft. 8½-in. I am glad the Commonwealth has definitely laid down the policy for its own railway construction of a standard 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, and I regret that Western Australia has not seen its way clear to build the line at that gauge from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle. No doubt, later on, they will remedy that. There is a moderately easy way to get over the difficulty of altering the gauge. If I were an engineer I should say that a third rail could be laid in sections on the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, inside the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. A start could be made on the line from Albury to Melbourne. When a section of 50 or 60 miles had been so treated, the surplus third rail could be picked up, and the New South Wales rolling-stock utilized on the section already completed. The engineers in charge of the work of bringing up materialto the Front in Flanders would do a job of that sort almost in one night, and they would not entertain for a moment the idea of having different gauges as we have in this country. The sleepers and spikes are there, and it would be easy to have a mechanical contrivance to indicate exactly where the additional rail was to be laid. The laying could be done without disturbing the running of the traffic. No doubt a number of vested interests would be disturbed, but that disability would be cheerfully borne by the bulk of thepeople in order that a uniform gauge might be established.
– Where would you get your rails from?
– The Broken Hill Company has just completed its contract for the supply of rails to the transcontinental line, and it would not be difficult to get it to supply enough rails to build a single line for 50 or 60 miles. When that was laid the unnecessary outside rails could be taken up, and instead of getting new rails for another 50 or 60 miles, they could be transferred further along the line, so that it would not be a matter of laying a third rail from Albury to Melbourne, and providing new rails for the whole distance. All the new rails that would be required for an operation of that kind would not exceed 50 or 60 miles in length.
– It would mean scrapping all the old 5-ft. 3-in. rolling-stock.
– Rails do not cost more than about £9 a ton, and not many tons would be required for a single line 50 or 60 miles long. My suggestion seems practical and economical. The side lines coming in as you go south could be dealt with as they were met. This would, of course, involve, as Senator Guy says, the scrapping of the 5-ft. 3-in. rolling-stock, which would be somewhat costly, but not necessarily requiring to be done all at once. If this scheme were adopted, no more 5-ft. 3-in. rolling-stock would be constructed, and any new rolling-stock required would be built for the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge and used as the different lines were brought to the standard gauge. No doubt it would take a number of years to complete the work economically, but every year that passes makes it more and more costly, so that the sooner it is begun the better. It would provide employment of the. most beneficial kind to large numbers of people, and as it would take some years to complete it would not involve the actual scrapping of all the existing 5-ft. 3-in. rolling-stock. About £1,000,000 worth of new rolling-stock has been ordered by the Victorian Government for use on the Melbourne suburban railways when electrified, and. that factor will, no doubt, operate against any alteration of the gauge such as I advocate ; but all this rolling-stock will wear out in time, and if no more is ordered the existing 5-ft. 3-in. lines can be gradually and persistently reduced to 4 ft. 8½ in., and no new 5-ft. 3-in. rolling-stock ordered. It will be asked who is to defray the cost ? It is impossible to say what the cost will be, but, inasmuch as it rose in a few years from £2,000,000 to £37,000,000 it will, no doubt, rise correspondingly in the future unless a start is made. The cost of labour and material is going up, and the longer the operation is delayed the more costly it will become. The Government should give early and serious consideration to the question. A good deal has been said about placing men on the land when they return from the Front, but many of them will not have the slightest desire to go on the land, and nothing will induce them to go there or to stay there if they are put there. But some of them have been accustomed to work of the kind that would be given by the alteration of the railway gauges, and when they return they could be at once restored to congenial employment. The advantage of the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge in connexion with the construction of platforms, tunnels, bridges, and cuttings must be apparent to every one. Where it is necessary to alter the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge to the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, doubtless some alteration in platforms, tunnels, and cuttings will be necessary.
– It will benecessary to alter the radius of the curves, and in Queensland, where every railway goes over a mountain, that will be difficult.
– I admit that there will be considerable trouble and expense involved in altering the 3-ft. . 6-in. gauge to the 4-ft. 8½-in. Nothing like the same trouble and expense will be involved in altering the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge to the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge.. However, no matter what the cost may be to provide a uniform gauge for our railways to-day, it will be very much more costly in the future. The railways are to-day the property of the States, and are likely to remain so for some time. It seems to me that the establishment of a uniform gauge is a matter for the Commonwealth, and the cost must be paid by the Commonwealth. In view of the position in Europe, we never know when our railways may be required for defence purposes, and they will be very much more serviceable to us if they are built upon a uniform gauge. I trust that the Government will give early and favorable consideration to this question.
There is a matter referred to in paragraph 12 of the Speech upon which I should like to make a few remarks. It is stated that the Government propose to submit certain financial proposals, including a Bill for the taxation of wartime profits, and a Bill to increase the rate of the income tax. Whilst I realize that there is a strong public demand for legislation for the taxation of wax-time profits, and that there will probably be no serious objection to an increase in the rate of the income tax, particularly upon very large incomes, I am, at the same time, very much afraid that we shall not find a Wartime Profits Act a very easy one to administer, and that we shall discover that many people who have made enormous profits out of the war will escape that form of taxation. The same thing some measure applies to the proposed increase of the income tax.
– Does the honorable senator really think that any one in Australia has made enormous profits out of the war?
– I do.
– In what particular industry ?
– People who became the possessors of large stocks of galvanized corrugated iron at £16 per ton are now able to command from £70’ to £80 per ton.
– And over £100 per ton.
– The price is now so high that one hardly knows whafi really can be obtained for the article. There are considerable stocks of galvanized iron in the Commonwealth, but they are being held in order that they may ‘become more valuable to the owners as time goes on. People having large stocks of galvanized iron and of similar commodities are, in my opinion,, in a fair way to the making of enormous profits out of the war.
– Some profits, no doubt, will be made, but, proportionately, not nearly so great as are being made in. the Old Country and in Canada.
– That may be so, but there are instances in the Commonwealth where enormous profits are being made out of the war.
– In no country in the world, and certainly in no other part of the Empire, has less profit been made out of the war than in Australia.
– I do not dispute that statement, and it is merely an indication that we need not expect to obtain any very extraordinary amount of revenue from a war-time profits tax.
– I think the honorable senator is right.
– If the effect of the tax be to prevent people making unfair profits, it will appropriate practically the whole of those profits, and I venture to say that if it does, people who are now alleged to be making enormous profits out of the war will cease to do so, because they will be unwilling to become voluntary tax gatherers for the Federal Government. There is, however, a very considerable public demand for the imposition of such taxation, and I await with interest the appearance of the measure, and the effects which are likely to follow from its operation. I do not believe that it will be found to be of very great advantage to the public.
– The honorable senator is pessimistic about it.
– I am not at all hopeful that. any very beneficial result will follow from it. An increase, in the rate of the Federal income tax may produce a substantial amount of revenue. I believe that the public generally, and particularly those whose incomes are comparatively small, will offer no opposition to such an increase.
There is a complete absence from the Governor-General’s Speech of any reference to an intention on the part of the Government to impose taxation in a way which would meet with my strongest approval. I have before mentioned in this Chamber that I regard the imposition of land value taxation as of the very first importance to the people of this country. From conversation with some honorable senators I find that they do not appear to have given very careful consideration to this question. For their information, and I hope for the information of honor able senators generally, I submit that the time is opportune for even the present Government to consider an amendment of the existing Federal land tax.
– More taxes on the primary producer.
– Some time ago I took advantage of the Standing Orders to make some inquiries into this matter. The information supplied to the Senate at my instance is of a most interesting character. I shall be able, later on, in dealing with it, to reply to the interjection just made that land value taxation means additional taxation upon the primary producer. I do not know whether Senator Crawford is himself a primary producer.
– I am.
– Then the honorable senator is certainly the first primary producer I ever heard complain that land value taxation would seriously interfere with him. The people whom I have heard making statements of the kind have been mostly those possessed of no land whatever themselves, but occupying the position of agents or middlemen, persons who, in a word, live by farming the farmers. As arule, the farmers themselves offer no objection at all to a proposal of this kind. I do not wish toweary the Senate by reading the return, furnished at my instance some days ago, but later on I may quote it, because I consider it of such importance that every honorable senator should realize what it contains. We have heard a good deal from time to time about a land tax being a tax upon the poor man. Unfortunately for those who make that statement, the schoolmaster has been abroad, and it is generally recognised now that there is scarcely any foundation whatever for that statement.
– The schoolmaster could not have been veryactive in the Labour Conference the other day, when it dealt with this subject and reversed the honorable senator’s motion, after adopting it.
– No one regrets the somersault of Senator Millen onthis question more than I do.
– The honorable senator must mean the somersault of the Labour Conference.
– Senator Millen is an exceptionally clever man. There is no one in this chamber who could advocate land value taxation more forcibly or eloquently. He is one of the men who have been largely responsible for the inculcation of the idea of land value taxation in the State which he has the honour to represent here.
– I am doing my best to atone for that evil.
– Since the honorable senator has found himself in his present company, he has not given expression to his views on this question in the forcible and interesting way in which he was accustomed to deal with the matter a few years ago. If he did so now. it would be an intellectual treat not only for members of the Senate, but for the public generally.
– Does the honorable senator mean to say that Senator Millen is a backslider?
– No; butthat he is not at the present time saying anything about this question.
– The honorable senator may yet come to his way of thinking.
– It is quite impossible to say how any man’s opinions may develop, but, up to the present, 1 am as strongly in favour of land values taxation as Senator Millen was in the days gone by. The position withregard to this matter is one which entitles it to very serious consideration. We have in Australia to-day a population of approximately 5,000,000. Many of them are very poor people. Honorable senators opposite, and others, are never tired of urging that legislation should be enacted on behalf of the poor of the community, but they take very goodcare not to advocate the imposition of a straight-out land values tax. I am always at a loss to know why they adopt that attitude. The return which I hold in my hand - and which I am glad to note has been published by a number of Melbourne newspapers, including the Stock and Station Journal - dis-‘ closes that while we have a population of about 5,000,000 the total land-owners of the Commonwealth number only 718,569.
– Do those figures include all town allotment holders?
– They include all land-owners of the Commonwealth on the 30th June, 1915. ‘
– Then the landowners number more than one in three of the adult population.
– That may be so.
– I think it is a very satisfactory position.
– I think it is a very unsatisfactory position. It shows that there are over. 2,000,000 adults in the Commonwealth who do not own any land at all. Many of them are very poor indeed.
– They will be poorer if they take up land.
– We have in Australia to-day about 2,780,000 electors, and yet there are more than 2,000,000 adults who do not own any land at all.
– Where did the honorable senator get. his figures ?
– They were supplied to me by the Commonwealth Statistician. According to thereturn compiled by him, there are only 718,000 land-owners in Australia, all of whom are not adults. These figures prove that there are more than 2,000,000 adults in the Commonwealth who do not own any land. Yet we hear some honorable senators complaining that a land tax would hit the poor men of the community.
– Why does not the honorable senator go upon the land?
– Because it is too costly. Of course, I am not referring to the empty spaces of this continent, a portion of which Senator de Largie owned some years ago. At that time we heard stories about Labour senators having annexed millions of acres in Western Australia. Only a little time ago I travelled over a portion of the country which is traversed by the East-West Railway, and I know that on the Nullabor Plains there is a large area which will not support stock of any kind. As a matter of fact, I saw no signs of life there over a stretch of hundreds of miles. If that country represents a sample of the “ rich, fertile lands” which Senator de Largie and some other honorable senators were alleged to have annexed some years ago, I do not wonder that they threw it up as being of no value whatever. As that country is of very little value, a land tax would scarcely touch it. I repeat, that there are more than 2,000,000 adults in the Commonwealth who own no land whatever.
– And who do not want to own any.
– Why in New South Wales, when the Government throw lands open for selection, there are hundreds and thousands of applicants for them..’
– Because they are well worth having. That is an effective answer to the honorable senator who says that men do not want land. We frequently hear Australians talking about “ this lovely land of ours.” Yet they do not own a single acre of it. Every Saturday they take their wages home to their wives, who tamely hand over a large portion of them to the landlord each Monday morning. They do not own an inch of land in this country, which they so loudly proclaim as “ ours.” I can quite understand large land-owners standing up and talking of this lovely Australia of “ ours,” but I cannot understand the ordinary working man stressing those words.
– I heard this sort of talk in connexion with recruiting.
– It is just as well to remember these facts when this question is being discussed. Apart from the fact that there were only 718,569 land-owners in the Commonwealth on 30th June, 1915, there is another very important fact to remember, namely, that those who held land of a less value than £100 numbered 275,615,, while those who owned land valued at between £100 and £200 numbered 141,956. So that, out of the total number of land-owners in the Commonwealth, it is manifest that one-half own estates of a less value than £200. These, I say, are merely nominal land-owners. Apart from them, there are 2,000,000 adults in the Commonwealth who do not own any land. Some persons say that a land tax will be paid by the small farmer, others that it will be passed on, and others, again, that the time for its imposition is not opportune. It never has been opportune.
– And it never will be.
– But I would like to point out that if a land tax cannot be passed on, it will have to be paid by the owners of land, and, as I have repeatedly stated, more than 2,000,000 adults in the Commonwealth own no land whatever.
– But they own other forms of wealth.
– That may be. Consequently, if a land tax be imposed, it cannot possibly touch any of the 2,000,000 persons to whom I have referred, and who constitute the poorer sections of the community.
– Some of the richest men in Australia do not own an acre of land.
– And some of the wealthiest men in Australia are big landowners.
– Also some of the poorest.
– I think we may regard the return which has been supplied to me by Mr. Knibbs as being based on information disclosed by the electors themselves. It was furnishedbythem under the impression that possibly it might be used for taxation purposes, and, in such circumstances, it is a common practice for the owners of land not to inflate the values of their properties. I understand that, when returns are furnished in respect of the values of land for probate or taxation purposes, and for selling purposes, they differ considerably. This return shows that the total value of the lands of the Commonwealth in 1915 was £455,876,804. Yet we are told by honorable senators that the land-owners are the poor men of the community. If they repeat that statement frequently enough they may even deceive themselves.
– To what extent are these properties encumbered?
– I cannot say. But it is ridiculous to assure us that the owners of these lands are poor persons. The aggregate value of holdings of a value of between £1,000 and £5,000 exceeds £153,000,000, whilst the aggregate value of land held in blocks of less value than £100 is only £12,648,000. If the taxation of this country were imposed to a greater extent upon the land values, the burden would fall very lightly indeed upon the poor land-owner. I do not regard as a poor man a person who owns land of a value of £5,000. My acquaintance is mostly withpeople whose landed estates are of a very much lesser value than that, and the majority of them own no land at all. Instead of being a tax upon the poor man, land values taxation, more than any other form of impost, would fall directly upon the wealthy people of the Commonwealth, and upon those best able to bear it.
– Would it not fall also upon the small land-owners?
– Yes; if imposed without exemption.
– That is a poor prospect for the returned soldier.
– At the present time . it is impossible for the returned soldier, or anybody else, to obtain land unless he pays a fictitious price for it.
– That is nob so. There are 600 farms in Western Australia which persons can get from the Government at a very low price.
– There are many people who do not wish to go to Western Australia. I know there are others who would dispose of their land if somebody would pay the rates for them, but that fact does not represent the general position. I know that in villages and townships the obtaining of a piece of land upon which to erect a house is almost a life’s work for the ordinary labouring man, and although honorable senators opposite, profess to sympathize with the poor workers, they allow this disgraceful state of affairs to continue.
– How can you cheapen land in Collins-street?
– I do not know that we can cheapen land in large centres. Such land will always be costly.
Senator BakhapHow can youcheapen land in the suburbs where the working man desires ito build his home ?
– The only way to cheapen land in the suburbs is by taxation, and by no other means can you permanently and effectively settle returned soldiers and others on the land of the Commonwealth..
– If you were to increase the dog tax to £100, would that increase the number of dogs?
– Such a tax would decrease the number of dogs, but we should not decrease ) the area or quality of land by taxation, no matter how heavy. Taxation would drive off the land those “‘dog-in-the-manger” people who keep vast areas out of use. Senator Senior. - You would drive off the land the man who cannot pay his rent.
– I thank the honorable senator for his interjection, and I hope that, when he has the opportunity of taxing men who are keeping returned soldiers and others- off the land, he will make the tax so’ heavy that those people will be obliged to make way for others who are prepared’ ito put the land te a proper use.
– Practically every State Government has power to compulsorily resume land.
– I do not believe in land resumption. The proper method of making land available to the people is to compel the owners to pay as nearly as possible its annual value ‘into the revenue of the country.
– What is a man to live on if he pays to the revenue the full rental value of his land ?
– In the western part of New South Wales, men are paying into the Treasury the full rental value of their land, and they are anxious,, to retain their holdings.
– On what do they live?
– A man who owns land has a right to the produce of that land, and, instead of paying the rental value to some bloated private monopolist, he pays it to the State.
– Then he does not pay the full rental value.
– He does. I understand that, under the mining laws in operation in the Commonwealth, it is not competent for any person to hold gold- bearing country out of use. On the average> gold-bearing country is not more profitable than wheat-growing land, but men are allowed to hold vast tracts of wheat-growing country without being called upon to pay any national tax whatever.
The Government should realize that not only returned soldiers, but thousands of people in Australia, will welcome an opportunity of securing cheap land, which, under present conditions, they cannot get. I appreciate the work done by voluntary workers’ associations in various States to assist in the repatriation of soldiers. While the Government have been talking and thinking, .the voluntary workers’ associations have stepped into the breach and erected cottages for the widows of soldiers. Such work. is highly commendable, but both the Government and the community realize that the efforts of the voluntary workers scarcely touch the fringe of the. problem. Consequently, the- Government propose to introduce a repatriation scheme, which, I hope, will be of such a comprehensive character that this Commonwealth may never be charged with, having failed to give every possible assistance to its returned soldiers. A few days ago I saw a cottage handed over to the widow of one man who had fallen at the front, and alongside the cottage are four other blocks available for the same purpose, provided the people of the district are prepared to hand over to a local land-sharking company the price it insists on getting before the widow of any soldier can be allowed to live there. That instance is typical of hundreds of cases throughout the Commonwealth, and it will be a standing disgrace to the Government if they do not bring forward their repatriation scheme at the earliest possible moment. These blocks have a frontage of 20 feet, with a depth of 75 feet.
– Are they at Annandale?
– Did not the Annandale people say, “ Senator Grant is criticising ; why does not he give us a hand to build cottages ? “
– It is impossible to get land on which to build (the cottages, although people are ready to give material and labour. Senator Millen never puts his hand to any of this work. He talks day and night, but does nothing of a practical character. Some of the Annandale people were so annoyed at my remarks that they even lost the power of speech. I stated there, and I repeat, that it is a standing disgrace to the Commonwealth Government that to-day it is impossible to get a 20-ft. frontage on which to build a home for the widow of a soldier without first going about the country to collect money, not for the widow, but for the friends of Senator Millen, the local land-sharking companies, which he has protected for so many years by his refusal to support those who are in favour of land values taxation, which is the only means of compelling the company to dispose of the land at a reasonable price.
– If you get the block of land and build a cottage on it, and then “give it to the widow, it becomes her property.
– That is a very good idea ; but before one can do that, the landsharking company demands £3 per foot; yet that land has not been improved in the slightest way since Captain Cook landed at La Perouse. Under our existing system, people are allowed to hold land unutilized and untaxed, and to say to the soldier’s widow, “ You must live in yonder hovel unless we get our £60 per block.” That instance is typical of conditions which obtain throughout Australia, and the sneers of honorable senators opposite do not deceive me or a large number of other people in the Commonwealth.
– We do not sneer, but we say that many people have wrong ideas about the taxation of land.
– The condition at Annandale applies also to the material out of which the house is built; that has also to be paid for.
– The question of material is not in the same category. A tent could be fixed up on the land without much cost, and a person could -live in that tent rent free; but the main trouble is to secure the block of land. No system of repatriation will be effective unless land is made available, and until it is made impossible for individuals or companies to hold on to their land without putting it to the highest possible use, or paying a very heavy tax. I would like to see a return showing the enormous amount of money which wage-earners pay in Australia every Monday morning to landlords for permission to live in this country.
– That money is ‘. mostly in the shape of rent for houses, and hot payment for land.
– The blocks which the honorable senator refers to are worth £50 each, whereas the house cost £250.
– But is it fair that the widow of a man who has been fighting for this country, which is nearly 3,000,000 square miles in extent, is not even able to pitch a tent to live in without paying some person £60 for permission to do so?
– If that widow is entitled to a piece of land or a house, we have no Tight to confiscate the land from the private owner. The whole community should pay for it, and give it to her.
– I do. not seek to rob any private owner. My point is that the Government should view this matter of the repatriation scheme in the proper light, and recognise that the instance I have quoted is only typical of thousands of cases. Is it proposed to hand over to. land companies the money that will be raised by Federal taxation, or by borrowing,, for the purposes of repatriation? Is that the little game? If so, it is a nice condition of affairs.
– How would the honorable senator make the land available without paying for it?
– The Leader of the Senate does not need to be told.
– That is correct. I know of two ways of getting the land - firstly, by paying for it honestly; and secondly, by stealing it.
– Honorable senators are the worst of traitors - political traitors - to their country if they continue to view this question as they have been doing. It is all very well for those who are land-owners to sneer at a paltry £60, but to many people in Australia that sum would represent a fortune. Yet before any material can be delivered on the ground - and it is supplied free in many cases - and before a nail can be driven towards the construction of the home, terms must be made with one of the landowners of Australia, and a fee must be paid for permission for the soldier’s widow to live upon that block. Such a condition of affairs will never have my support. The only way out of the difficulty is to tell these men that if they hold on to their land they must pay to the State the full value of it, and the sooner the Government are prepared to give serious consideration to this question the better it will, be for the whole of the people’ of the country, and more particularly for those 2,000,000 adult electors who do not own any land.
It has been a most difficult matter to impose even the nominal amount of land taxation which is now in operation in the various States. The total unimproved capital value of land in New South Wales on the 30th June, 1915, according to a report which has been prepared, was £172,345,464.
– Before the honorable senator sits down will he explain how it was that his own associates, having adopted a resolution to abolish the £5,000 exemption, reversed the decision on the following day?
– I shall explain it presently. The people holding this enormous value of land -in New South
Wales contribute only £4,000 per annum in State taxation.
– What do they pay in local government taxation?
– I have not the figures with me. It has been a most difficult matter to get the incidence of taxation altered from rating on improvements to rating on land values. I had the honour of moving, at the formation of the Labour platform, in 1890, that all revenue for local government purposes should be derived from land values only, but the matter remained a dead letter for many years until a Liberal Government transferred it to the statute-book, and it then became mandatory that all rates for shire purposes should be struck upon land values only. Unfortunately the rate per pound was limited to not more than twopence.
– Not in the towns and suburbs.
– That is so; it applied merely to the country; but at a later date it was left optional to municipalities to rate on land values or on improvements; in other words, the municipalities would make the land-owners pay in proportion to the value of their holdings, or penalize owners in proportion to the improvements effected upon their properties. The latter idea is still in operation in “Victoria; but without exception, so far as I know, the municipalities of New ‘ South Wales have struck a rate in accordance with the formula laid down by that world-wide economist Henry George, namely, that the tax should be in proportion to the value of the land held.
– Henry George was not recognised as an economist.
– I recognise him as an economist. The people of New South Wales have decided that his scheme for local taxation purposes should be adopted, without any progressive, graduated, or absentee ideas attaching to it. No matter what the value of the land is, the rate is struck accordingly, and that method is strictly and definitely in line with the principles enunciated by Henry George in Progress and Poverty. The same principle has been in force, in Queensland for many years, and there is no idea of reverting to those exploded methods which are in operation in Melbourne to-day, where there are so many unemployed. It is no wonder they are unemployed, because if any person gives them- work they are immediately pounced upon by the local authorities and penalized in proportion to the amount they earn. Legislation was passed to enable the city of Sydney to strike its rates upon the basis of land values, but, unfortunately, for many years nothing was done, until a. majority of Labour members was returned about two years ago to the City Council. They availed themselves of the first opportunity to review the system of taxation in force, and the old method was entirely abandoned. The result is that to-day those who invested their money in the Hotel Metropole, the Ho’tel Australia, the eight-storey building of the Labour Papers Limited - the new Worker offices - in short, all who employed their capital in the erection of buildings are not called upon, because of that, to pay any more taxation. Absentee landlords who are the owners of slum areas in valuable portions of the city have to pay just as much taxation per pound as those who have given employment in the erection of fine buildings and have so helped to beautify Sydney. It has taken us more than twenty-five years to bring that system into operation, and now that it is in force, scarcely a word of complaint is made against it. I carefully watched the newspapers at the time of its adoption, and I do not think that more than two short, squeaky letters were published in opposition to it. To-day the system is firmly established, and there is no likelihood of any man being returned to the Sydney City Council who would revert to the old system of taxing property. Unfortunately, while municipal councils in New South Wales have adopted the system which I advocate, the State Government have abrogated their land tax of Id. per fi. That tax, with an exemption up to £240, was imposed by Sir George Reid with the aid of the Labour party, but it has been left to the local governing authorities to continue the system. It has been found almost impossible to induce the State Parliament to again consider the question of land values taxation. The State authorities moved heaven and earth to secure from the Commonwealth the payment of 25s. per head out of Customs revenue, in order that the Treasury coffers might) be filled, but- the Legislative Council of New South
Wales would- not give a moment’s consideration to a proposal to impose a State land values tax. The total revenue paid to the State in respect of land taxation does not exceed £4,000 per annum. I do not say that land-owners have not to pay a good deal more in respect of Federal and local government land taxation, but that is the total amount raised under the New South Wales State tax. Almost insuperable difficulties have been placed in the way of our efforts as a Commonwealth” Parliament to compel land-owners to contribute,, in this way, something towards the cost of government. I can well remember that Senator Pearce, some years ago, took an active interest in land values taxation. At our Inter-State conferences, he then stood up boldly in support of a land values tax without any exemption, and resolution after resolution in favour of direct taxation, and more particularly in favour of a Federal land tax, was passed at those conferences. It is true;, that later on we developed the idea that there should be an exemption of £5,000 in respect of the unimproved land tax, and that that provision was subsequently incorporated in the Federal Act. When that measure was passed we were told that a progressive land tax would ruin the people. It has had no such- result. The people of Australia are as wealthy and as prosperous as ever they were, but the land-owners have thus been called upon to pay something towards the government of the country. From a recent summary of the Commonwealth finances, I find that the owners of the Commonwealth - I use the word “owners” advisedly - in 1915-16 were only called uponto pay the paltry sum of £2,040,436 under the Federal land tax. They have got off very lightly. Senator Pearce, Senator Millen, and, I think, the majority of those on the Ministerial side, recognise that we cannot hope to make land available, in a general and permanent way, except by taxing it in proportion to its value.
– ^Confiscation !
– I deny altogether that it means confiscation. It does’ not mean confiscation, when one is called Upon to pay this tax to the local governing authorities.
– But one gets value for it in the shape of roads and so forth.
– And unless the Commonwealth Government is failing in its duty, those who pay the Federal land tax are obtaining value for their money, although perhaps they may not be able to see it so clearly as they do in the case of payments made to the local governing body. The revenue derived from land taxation is helping in the defence of this country. We are so far removed from the scene of operations that we do not realize it as clearly as we recognise the services Tendered to us by municipal councils as the result of revenue raised by a tax on unimproved land values. But the one service is just as tangible asthe other. Every member of the Government knows that this is so, but I am afraid that we shall look in vain to them for help in this direction. I shall give them every possible support if they attempt to make land available, especially if they set about the work in the right way. But if they launch wild schemes of repurchasing land at fictitious prices, I do not say that I shall give them a very enthusiastic support. Even that, however, would be better than nothing.
– Nothing could be wilder than the’ scheme that the honorable senator suggests.
– The honorable senator may consider it wild and impracticable, but I think I have clearly demonstrated that the system in operation in connexion with the local governing bodies in New South Wales is eminently practicable, equitable, and just. I know of one district in New South Wales where the general rate, the water and sewerage rate, and the lighting rate are all struck upon the basis of unimproved land values. The Council . Clerk of Hay, which I visited some time ago, informed me that the council rates were all struck upon the basis of land values. In the aggregate they amount to1s. 7d. in the £1, but the value of the land has not in consequence been entirely obliterated. In fact, so far as I could ascertain, the system has had no appreciable effect in reducing land values.
– Then the honorable senator’s proposal, if adopted, would not cheapen land,
– I am not absolutely certain, as to what would follow the . imposition of a heavy land tax, but when I see every Conservative Parliament, and every Upper House in the Commonwealth, opposed to land values taxation, I am inclined’ to think that such taxation must be a good . thing for the workers. When I see all the Upper Houses of Australia on the one side, I think it high time for me to be on the other.
– Why does not the honorable senator first try to convert his own associates?
– I have not overlooked that point. I remember once attending, with Senator Millen, a Labour Conference, held in the Temperance Hall, Sydney, where he represented the Western Carriers. Had he remained with us
– If he had not seen the error of his ways.
– He saw where the majority . was. He was out to win the electoral war, and he went over to the other side. If he had remained with us, and had continued to attend our conferences, he would not have asked me, as he did this morning, to explain a certain matter.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I find that on page 756 of the Commonwealth Year-Book of 1916 there is shown the amounts which the land-owners of the various States pay in the way of State taxation. I should like to quote those amounts, in order to show that there should be no hesitation whatever in asking those land-owners in these critical times, when we are assured by the Commonwealth Treasurer that additional taxation to the extent of over £7,000,000 will be necessary, to be prepared to contribute a little more towards the extraordinary expenses of the country. The Year-Book tells us that for the year 1914-15 the land tax collected in New South Wales for State revenue purposes amounted to £3,346, while the land valuation, as furnished in the return supplied to me some time ago, was £172,345,464. In Victoria the tax collected was £303,550, with a valuation of £162,156,136; in South Australia the tax was £131,896, with a valuation of £45,108,107; in Western Australia, £36,433, with a valuation of £18,988,380; and in Tasmania, £80,863, with a valuation of £15,022,114. These figures show taxation paid- amounting to £556,088, -with a valuation of about £445,000,000.
– Can you give us the local government figures and the Federal figures to make your case complete?
– It is somewhat difficult to get the figures to synchronize, seeing that one return may be for 1914- 15 and the other return for 1915-16 ; but, so far as I am able to collect the figures, they show that the position is as I have stated.
– Do the figures include taxation in the towns?
– The figures include Collins-street, with the Rialto, and so forth. The total revenue from State land taxes ig £556,088. The Commonwealth progressive land tax, imposed by the Labour party, amounts to £2,040,446, while the local government taxes or rates amount to £5,195,446, or a total of £7,791,980, on an assessment- of £445,000,000.
– And you stand up and ask that the land-owners shall pay more ?
– That is precisely what I do ask. Senator Millen has no hesitation in becoming a member of a Government which would ask the widow of a soldier, if she goes to a picture show, to pay a tax of Id. on each shilling she pays for admission, but he now inferentially objects to the land-owners throughout the Commonwealth paying more in land taxation than the paltry sum of a little over £7,000,000 per year.
– Paltry sum!
– Yes, a paltry sum. The basis of taxation is largely a land value basis, though not quite, because in some States like Victoria, it is not imposed as it is in more up-to-date States, like New South Wales. In Victoria, where every year we hear complaints about unemployed, a capitalist who comes to Melbourne to invest in the erection of buildings and the improvement of the city, is immediately pounced upon by the Lord Mayor and his staff and compelled to pay taxation in proportion to the amount he expends and the employment he gives. A similar condition of affairs can be found in Adelaide, Perth, and other cities; the only up-to-date States in this respect are Queensland and New South Wales. In all the other States industries are penalized to the extent which money is invested. The amount of £5,000,000 odd in local rates, must be paid either on land values or improvements, or on both, so that in effect the land-owner would not be relieved even if the local measures were amended so as to revert to the narrow, obsolete, and discredited system of taxing improvements. On the whole, it will be seen that the landowners of the Commonwealth are allowed to escape with very nominal taxation.
I recognise in Senator Millen a power of strength on a question of this kind, and I am addressing my remarks particularly to him in the hope of conversion. If the honorable gentleman does not come over to my side I shall probably quote one of those very able letters which he was in the habit of furnishing to the local press on this very important question. So far as I can ascertain, the whole of the wealthy land-owners of New South Wales pay towards State revenue only £3,346 per year.
– The honorable senator tells us what is paid by the wealthy land-owners; will he tell us what is paid by those who are not wealthy?
– I am speaking of the amount paid by the whole of the landowners. It is only the owners in the western division of New South Wales who pay land values - taxation for State revenue purposes. Those in the eastern and central divisions are exempt from such taxation.
– What is the total revenue from land taxation in New South Wales ?
– The land-owners of New South Wales pay £2,108,715 in the way of municipal and other local govern* ment rates, which is nearly 50 per cent, of the total amount of local government taxation levied by the Commonwealth. The figures go to show that the majority of persons in Australia do nob own land, and that, in spite of the efforts that have been made to get the land-owners ,to pay taxation commensurate with the value of their interests, they have hitherto practically escaped. Now that the Government is confronted with the (repatriation of returned soldiers, I point these facts out to them. I am nob aware that they have hitherto done anything practical, but if they really desire to make land available at reasonable prices, they will take the only course that would have that result. Senator Pratten is well informed on these matters, and I think that if he were not on the other side of the chamber, he would support the principle that 1 1 am maintaining. I believe that he is not the only senator on .that side whose views on these matters are like my own. Unfortunately, the members of the Nationalist party are not allowed to express their individual opinions. We have heard a great deal about the heinousness of the industrial section determining matters at Conference, but the other day, when it came to the election of the President of the Senate, we found that the choice had already been made in the Caucus of the Nationalist party, and the Senate merely registered the decision arrived at. The same thing happened in regard to the election of the Chairman of Committees. I have no objection ,to the procedure followed in those cases, but it should be on record that it did not differ from that of the Australian Labour party in such matters. When I ask that taxation be placed on the men who own the Commonwealth, a thousand and one excuses are given for not doing that. No taxation is so strenuously opposed as direct taxation, because the taxpayers know exactly what ‘they are called upon to pay.
– We have more direct taxation in Australia than in any other country.
– There is nob enough land values taxation. I have not so much sympathy with, war-time profits’ taxation, income taxation, or the taxation imposed by means of estate duties. The estate duties taxation is levied after the death of the owner of an estate. When deceased persons have left large estates, both the Commonwealth and’ States appropriate a large proportion of them. They do not dare to do that until the owners of the estates have died. When a man leaves a substantial estate to his widow, the Prime Minister and his tax collectors compel the unfortunate woman and her family to pay them 15 per cent, of the value of the estate, a most cowardly, contemptible, and reprehensible action. Individually, these men spurn the idea of robbing a widow.
– The honorable member supported the measure which enables the Commonwealth ito do what he objects, to.
– I- did not at any stage support that measure, and the honorable senator would not have supported it when his views on taxation were clearer than they are now. After the Federal authorities have finished with an estate, the Premier and the taxation officials of New South Wales - if it be a New South Wales estate - fasten on the unfortunate widow, and take from her another 15 per cent. Thus she loses 30 per cent, of what was left to her, apart from the legal expenditure that she has to incur. That kind of taxation does not appeal to me. It is levied under the pretence that the Government is entitled to get back what it was robbed of by the person who left the estate, which accumulated under the protection of the laws of the country. But our Governments are not game to tax an owner during his lifetime. I believe that Senator de Largie favours high Customs revenue taxation, which is imposed, not to keep out foreign-made goods, but to secure revenue for the Treasury, and thus avoid the imposition of direct taxation.
– A high Tariff does not tend to the importation of goods.
– That is a fallacy promulgated by Protectionists, but the real reason for high duties is not to keep out foreign-made goods, but to produce revenue without the need for direct taxation. Every year since the beginning of Federation the revenue from Customs duties has increased, and it will continue to increase. This Government certainly -will not make any attempt, to keep out foreignmade goods by Tariff arrangement. That would have a most fatal effect on the revenue. If they kept out foreignmade goods they would be confronted with the necessity of getting revenue from other sources. And as they have exploited the widows and orphans almost as far as they can do, they would probably be compelled to look to land values for more taxation. So far as I can see, they are not very favorably disposed in that way, because, while they mention in the opening speech that we may look forward in the near future to the introduction of one or two Bills dealing with taxation, they do not bring forward any proposal with the view to tax to any further extent this enormous reservoir of £445,000,000 worth to which I have just referred.
– When are you going to tell us why your associates do not agree with you?
– It has been most difficult to get the workers generally to see this question in the same way as I do.
– You imply that they lack brain power; is that so?
– No. They mean quite well. They strongly advocated, for instance, the creation of a Fair Rents Court, with the view to securing a reduction in their enormous rents. They honestly believed that the establishment of such a Court would have that effect, but after it has been in operation for a considerable time its advocates are not nearly so enthusiastic as they were. It is quite possible that an idea of that kind may give way, at a later stage, to the more equitable idea of a general land value tax. I feel that the latter proposal would have a much more beneficial effect in reducing the rents of houses than would a Fair Rents Court, but, as I said, it is most difficult to get many people to adopt that view. I can quite understand that honorable senators on the other side, who are associated with the land-owners so extensively, and who themselves are so closely interested in land values, will take a long time to agree to a proposal of that kind. Indeed, I question very much if they will ever agree to it.
– It will be a pretty big subject of debate then.
– That is not going to deter me from placing a few facts and figures before honorable senators occasionally, because I hope that at least a few of them may come to see the errors of their ways, and possibly assist this side in moulding the taxation policy of the country in such a manner as to compel the people who own the Commonwealth to pay a larger share of taxation than they do.
– Your own. side will not assist you.
– I may say that the party on this side are officially in favour of a substantial increase in the Federal land value tax,
– Also in lowering the exemption?
– They are not in favour of that yet.
– Are you?
– I am, indeed.
– You are?
– I always have been. I may say, however, that, for the purposes of State revenue in New South Wales, the last Conference agreed that there should be an alteration in the incidence of the State land value tax, so that there should be no exemption. If, for instance, I were speaking on a New South Wales platform in a State contest, it would be quite in accordance with the resolution of the last Conference to advocate a straight-out land value tax, without exemptions, sufficiently heavy to meet the interest on the capital invested in railways and tramways. The Conference has agreed to a State land value tax which, without exemptions, would produce from the £172,345,464 worth of land in New South Wales enough to pay the interest on the capital invested in railways, which, on the 30th June, 1916, amounted to £2,568,659, and the interest on the capital invested in tramways,, which amounted to £302,686, or a total of £2,871,345.
– Whatis the capital value ?
– I have not those figures by me at the present moment. The last Conference came to a decision that it would be wise, in the interests of the farmers of the country and of others, that their fares and freights should be reduced to the extent of £2,871,345 per year. This kind of taxation, of course, would fall very heavily on land jobbers and land speculators. The companies that own vacant blocks of land on which they will not permit homes or tents to be erected for tie widows of returned soldiers would be required to pay a substantial additional tax. They would not then be able to hold on to the land for which they now want £3, £4 and more per foot, because they would have to pay the tax. It is always asserted in this chamber, and elsewhere, that the tax cannot be passed on, and I quite agree with that assertion. That is the reason why honorable senators on the other side, who are so closely allied with the land sharks of the community, refuse to support a proposal of this kind.
– Why do you talk like that? Some of us have not an acre of land.
– But you are not the only one on that side.
– He does not care what he says.
– I am very careful as to what I say.
– You do not weigh your words.
– I weigh my words very carefully, and whatever I say is quite correct.
Senator Bakhap. Oh!
– Any statement I make, honorable senators may be quite sure, is in accordance with fact. I have no hesitation in saying that, individually and collectively, honorable senators on the other side do all they can, in season and out of season, to prevent the imposition of taxation upon those who are familiarly known as land speculators, or land sharks.
– If all your statements are equal to that one, we know how to value them.
– That is the only method of taxation which will reach the land speculators, as Senator Shannon knows very well. The tax on a shilling or half-crown ticket to a picture show does not interfere with the land shark. The only tax that will affect him is the one I have mentioned, and I am glad that the New South “Wales State Conference adopted a proposal to ask the State Government to proceed with the imposition of taxation without exemptions, so as to recover from the land-owners the moderate sum of £2,861,345.
– How did the Government meet that request ?-
– I do not know that it has yet been submitted to them, but I have no doubt that they will refuse it, and consequently compel the farmers and others who use the railways to pay the very heavy charges now demanded, which make settlement in the country . so difficult and distasteful. That is the only kind of taxation that would greatly relieve the farmers. It must be remembered that the main portion of the land values exists in the cities, towns, and villages, and not in the country. The land held by farmers often does not exceed from £3 to £5 an acre. You may find some farmers whose lands are much more valuable, but the bulk of the land values of the Commonwealth are in the large cities. The land values of the city of Sydney alone, which does not contain one farmer, amount to more than £30,000,000. In the suburbs there are plenty of land speculators, but no farmers, and in those suburbs we have more than 40,000 vacant blocks, surrounded by ‘ all the conveniences of civilization, the owners simply waiting patiently for a rise in values.
– Is there none for sale?
– They are all for sale at a price. 0
– There is a tax on them already.
– The local government tax does not exceed 4d. or 5d. in the £1, which is not nearly enough to equal the added value given to the land. The values of the city lands are increasing year by year, as Senator Pratten knows, at a ‘rate which far exceeds the paltry amount now being collected from them by way of taxation.
– That is so in some cases. The value of others is being swallowed up in rates.
– That may be so in some cases, where foolish people gave fictitious prices for land, expecting other equally, foolish people to follow them; but the fact remains that the land values of the city of Sydney are going up year by year, not by hundreds of thousands, but by millions. The 40,000 odd blocks I mentioned are within the water and sewerage area, and therefore not subject to any State or Federal land tax whatever, except in cases where they exceed the £5,000 limit.
– Are they valued higher than they were before the war?
– I think they are. I do -not think the value of land in any suburban area in Sydney has been depreciated to the slightest extent. Some land was sold there on long leases some time ago at as high as £2 per foot per year, payable in advance, and the lessees have to pay all rates, municipal, State, and Federal, present and prospective.
– The honorable senator’s argument, then, is not against the system of taxation, seeing that New South Wales has a tax on land values, but his criticism is that the taxation is not sufficiently heavy ?
– I am out for mon taxation.
– Is that to abolish the probate duty?
– I would very much, rather Bee the probate duty abolished if the amount lost by that process were struck directly upon the whole of the land’ values of the Commonwealth. The idea behind the probate duties is that the citizen who has secured these values has robbed the other citizens of this amount, and the Government try to get even with him or with his estate after he has disappeared. .They are not game to tackle him while he is there.
– I never heard before that they took it for granted that he had robbed somebody.
– That is the only excuse for taking the money from his estate. Why not apply the same principle to the estate while the owner ia alive ? There is no reason why you should not. These are strenuous times, when we require revenue by the million. The estates are there ; why not apply the tax 1 I deny that land value taxation would fall heavily on the poor man. It would fall very lightly on him, and with exceptional lightness on those who do not own land at all. They would be able to get land at a reasonable price. At the present time they cannot get it.
– They do not want it.
– It is make-believe for the honorable senator to say they do not want it. They do want it.
– Then they can get it. Will you take a farm for nothing 1
– I will.
-j-Then come oyer to South Australia, and you can have it in a good rainfall area.
– Hand over the title deeds.
– You can have the title deeds if you come over to South Australia; but you must live on it, and work it.
– I shall not accept any condition of that sort. Senator Millen endeavoured earlier to ascertain from me why the last State. Conference reviewed a decision arrived at earlier in its existence. The proposal was to refer to the Inter-State Conference the question of striking out the £5,000 exemption.
– You first persuaded them to agree to remove the exemption, did you nott
– I did. I delivered to them a short statement urging on them the advisableness, equity, and justice of submitting to the Inter-State Conference the question of eliminating the £5,000 exemption. I was looking over the reports of the Inter-State Conference held in previous years, and found that it was quite a common thing among many of the delegates to hold the opinion that there should be no exemption at all. There was always a majority, including men like Senator Lynch, Mr. Holman, and Mr. King O’Malley, on the side of the £5,000 exemption.
– They were not members of the New South Wales Conference.
– But I am speaking of the Inter-State Conference. Member* of the State Conference held in Sydneygot into a right-thinking frame of mind after I addressed them. I spoke only twice, and pointed out that it would be a good thing to refer the question of eliminating the £5,000 exemption in the Federal land tax to the Inter-State Conference for consideration. I drew attention to the fact that the total unimproved value of land in the Commonwealth representing estates of over £5,000 and subject to taxation was £179,668,830, according to the return which the Senate was good enough to agree should be furnished on my motion some time ago.
– What did the Conference say to that?
– They said, “ Is that so?” and I replied, “Yes, it is emphatically so.” “ Well, then,” said they, “ We are in favour of the other owners of the Commonwealth paying their fair chare.” That is to say, they were in favour of a balance of the land in the Commonwealth, representing: in value about £256,000,000, being brought under the operation of the Federal land tax.
– Wiry did you not tell the Conference that all the unoccupied Crown land was still available for taxation ?
– Members of the Conference knew that, and they held the view that, in fairness to the people who were paying the tax, tlie owners of this enormous value in land should also be called upon to contribute something towards the Commonwealth revenue. The
Conference itself was very representative, consisting as it did of delegates of a large number of branches and unions throughout the State. Members present saw. the force of my argument, and by a two to one majority agreed that the question should be submitted to the Inter-State Conference for consideration. The Conference sat for a few days afterwards, and during my absence - I think I was in Melbourne at the time - one of the delegates who was opposed to the resolution endeavoured to get a suspension of the Standing Orders with the object of having it reviewed. He failed then, because at that time the Conference was still in a rightthinking frame of mind, but he was not discouraged. He went around interviewing a number of the other delegates, with the result that on a later date he secured the suspension of the Standing Orders and had the decision reversed, notwithstanding the strenuous effort that I made to prevent this course. Just what were the reasons influencing the Conference at that time I do not know, but so far as the New South Wales section of the movement is concerned, they are now officially against the imposition of any taxation whatever for any Federal revenue purposes on values estimated by the owners of more than £256,000,000 of lands in the Commonwealth, but, as I have already pointed out, the same delegates, for State’ revenue purposes, are in favour of imposing taxation, without exemption, on landowners annually to the extent of £2,861,345, in order . to pay the interest on the moneys sunk on railways, tramways, and such undertakings. I hope I have made the position clear to Senator Millen and other honorable senators. I do not agree at all with’that decision, and I will take advantage of the first opportunity I have to endeavour to get the Conference into a right-thinking frame of mind again. In the meantime, I would point out that the National Government have a substantial majority in this Chamber, as well as in the other branch of the Legislature, and if they are very anxious to d.o the right thing, by registering on the statute-book the first decision of our Conference, they now have the numbers to do it, and I will not offer any serious or prolonged opposition to such a proposal.
– You could not vote for it, because you have promised not to vote for anything not eliminating the £5,000 exemption.
– Even if I do not vote for such a proposal, the Government have sufficient numbers to carry it.
– But you would be breaking your pledge.
– Surely the honorable senator would not sign a pledge that he did not believe in ?
– I repeat the Government have a magnificent opportunity to bring this proposal forward, and they could carry it quite irrespective of any member on this side of the Senate. There are a number of more or less nebulous proposals referred to in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, which will, no doubt, materialize later, when Bills dealing with them are submitted to us. I wish to say, in conclusion, that the present Government have a magnificent majority behind them in another place and in the Senate. They have been more than two months in office, and though they were to be the ‘* Win-the-War “ Government, they have, so far, done nothing in that direction. The people expect them tol put forth every ounce of effort of which they are capable, and to see that nothing is left undone to win the war. So far as I am concerned, and I believe I can speak for every member of the party to which I belong, there will be offered no serious opposition .to, or captious criticisms of, the Government proposals. We are waiting to see what they will be, and I hope that long before the session terminates the war in Europe will be a thing of the past.
.- I have a few comments to offer upon the matters referred to in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. I shall take advantage of the present opportunity tlo refer to something which occurred some time ago, and of a somewhat personal nature. I shall put that matter as clearly as possible before the country. I have always had an abhorrence of war, and hate it as I hate the moat deadly sin. I mourn the fact that the present calamitous war, with its toll of suffering and murder, still continues. 1 suppose that -every honorable senator, and every honest member of tine community, will agree with that sentiment. There are very few families in
Australia who have not to-day some relative who has been killed or maimed as the result of the war. This has brought home to the people the fact that we are engaged in a mostserious conflict. Wars are brutalizing, and I for one cannot subscribe tothe doctrine that the progress of any nation depends upon its fighting qualities. That we must have war, rapine, plunder, and murder, in order that the nation may progress, is a doctrine that is absolutely abhorrent to me. I have no doubt that most members of the Federal Legislature hold the same views as I do myself upon this subject, but there are probably a few who continue to hold the old savage idea that no nation that is not a nation of warriors can progress. After 2,000 years of Christianity, and with the advantage of civilization-, that notion should now be exploded, except in the minds only of those who may have something to gain by the continuance of the war.
The people of Australia, and to some extent people throughout, the world, have been very much deceived in connexion with the war. We get faked news, and information that should be made public is suppressed. If we were to tabulate the information which has been supplied to us through the cable messages appearing in the newspapers, we should now find that, assuming them to be correct, there would be very few Germans left. The authorities should be more honest with the people, and should trust them. The censorship should not be used as it is today, whether the fault be at this end or the other end. I have confidence that the people of Australia, if they were told the truth, would stand up to the necessities of the occasion, and help the Empire to which they belong, as it ought to be helped. No doubt some information ought not to be made public, but the bulk of the information which we could get, and ought, to get, is kept from us. It is on the very uncertain basis of the information supplied to us through the censors that we are expected to form our judgment, and I venture to say that 99 per cent. of the people of Australia do not know the actual position of affairs at the Front. We have had statements appearing almost every day in the newspapers to the effect that our enemies are being starved, and that they are on the verge of collapse. According to the words of English statesmen and others, the war is practically ended, yet it would appear that to-dav we are no nearer the end of the war than we were twelve months ago. I trust that the censorship will be relaxed in some degree, and the public taken into the confidence of the authorities.
– All press cables about the war are censored at the other end, and none of the press cables sent out are prevented from being published here.
– Wherever the fault lies, an effort should be made to enable the people generally to learn more of the truth concerning the operations at the Front than they can possibly learn at the present time. The existing practice has the effect of lulling people into a sense of security for which there may be no warrant at all.
I am neither surprised nor disappointed with the Governor-General’s Speech in so far as it is a declaration of the policy of the Government. I say, frankly, that I did not expect the present Government to intimate that it was their intention to bring in conscription. I am not disappointed, either, because of the vagueness of the Speech. Such deliverances are always more or less vague. But a good many persons outside have been disposed to cast upon the Government reflections which are, to some extent, justified. The Government went to the country with the hollow cry that they were bent on winning the war. In the circumstances the people expected thatthey would have done something heroic and something out of the ordinary in order to prove that their cry about winning the war was not as hollow as it appears to have been. I am glad that no proposal for the introduction of conscription is included in the Governor-General’s Speech. As an anticonscriptionist, I am glad of that. Everything now seems to prove, up to the hilt, the truth of the statements which I made during the conscription campaign. We were told then that Australia could be saved only by raising 32,500 troops in September last, and 16,500 monthly afterwards. I said at the time that we did not require half that number, and I based my estimate on the average wastage that had occurred during the period of the war.
– We are not saved now.
– It has since been proved that we did not require half that number. As a matter of fact, we have filled up the gaps with less than a third of the number originally said to be necessary. The Prime Minister stated recently at Bendigo that experience had proved that we did not require 20 per cent, of the number that it was previously estimated we required. We were told last year that, even if we raised the 16,500 reinforcements monthly, we would still have to deplete the Fifth Division at the Front. But, with less than one-third of that number of reinforcements, we have added 15,000 to the five Australian Divisions that are in France. That has been done by securing 5,000 recruits monthly. One might expatiate upon what would have been the result if we had enlisted all the men that we were told it was necessary to enlist, upon how many would have been displaced from industry, and so on.
.- What about the ‘ men who have been at the Front for two years without a spell?
– If the Government contemplated bringing these men back to Australia to give them a spell, they contemplated something of which nobody outside of a lunatic asylum would dream. With our limited transport service, how long would it take to bring the 115,000 men who are now at the Front back to the Commonwealth? It could not be done iri twelve, or even eighteen, months.
– Could we not give them a spell over there ?
– But the proposal is that they should be brought back to Australia. I have never seen’ it suggested that they should be given a spell on the other side. It would be impossible to return a section of these troops to Australia for a holiday without creating dissension among those who remained behind.
– Therefore, they should be kept there until they drop.
– Let us give them a holiday on the other side’, if possible.
– If we are not short of men in France, why were troops withdrawn from the Third Division?
– I understand that, in the first place, that division was called the Third, but, for the sake of convenience, it was afterwards termed the Fifth. Anyhow, we have five full divisions at the Front now.
– I question that.
– I think the Minister knows that, and we have an additional 15,000 troops there.
Much has been said, and very little done, in the matter of the repatriation of our soldiers. Those who have gone away have a right to expect that they shall be restored to - a position at least equal to that which they left behind. For men who enlisted willingly, and who have risked their lives on the battlefield, nothing that we can do is too good. They have a right, therefore, to expect that they will be restored to a position equal to that which they left behind. A great deal has been said about settling these men on the land. But before we make any extensive preparations in that direction, we ought to ascertain, with some degree of accuracy, the number who are desirous of following that avocation, . and the number who are qualified to do so. If men have no adaptability to .the calling, we should be wasting money by placing them on the land.
– Very many of our troops overseas came from the country.
– But even some of them may not desire to continue in their former calling. I know of many men who have gone away on expeditions of a somewhat similar character, and who, upon their return, did not desire to go back on the land. We ought, therefore, to ascertain, as closely as we can, the number of soldiers who wish to follow agricultural pursuits before we make any elaborate preparations in that connexion. To my mind the great majority of our troops abroad will wish, on their return, to resume the occupations which they followed before they enlisted. In that case, it ought to be a fairly easy thing to repatriate them. We know it was stated throughout Australia by almost every large employer that men who enlisted voluntarily would have their positions kept open for them. That being so, it ought to be the easiest thing in the world for returned men to resume their former1 occupations. Unfortunately, there aTe thousands who left our shores who will never return, and, consequently, there ought to be no difficulty in finding employment for those who do come back.
It will be difficult to compel employers to reinstate their former employees, but I think the Commonwealth and State Legislatures ought to impress on all employers throughout the Commonwealth that when a man has fought for his country they should be loyal enough to reinstate him in his former position. I know that men have returned from the war and found that the positions they occupied before they went are not open to them. Other men have been obtained to do the work at a cheaper rate, and in other cases girls are doing the work satisfactorily, and the employers will not dispense with their services in order to re-employ returned soldiers. If every honest employer were to keep open the positions of men who went away, we should not have a great trouble in the repatriation of our soldiers. At the same time, I wish to make clear my opinion that a man who has risked his life in fighting for his country is entitled to the protection of the people of Australia, and nothing we can do will be too good for him.
I wish to say a few words about the enormous profits that are said to have been made by those engaged in commercial life. I do not say that the huge profits which have been made in commerce in England have been made in Australia, but it is an undoubted fact that profits are being made out of the exigencies of the times, out of the needs of the people, almost out of thesufferings of the people. Some time ago, when the fixation of prices and the limitation of profits was being discussed in Tasmania, a legislator said that the war gave the commercial man his opportunity, and he was justified in making all the profits he could. That argument may be in accordance with commercial morality, but it does not conform to my idea of equality of sacrifice. When people are being called upon to make great sacrifices, it is not right for the commercial man to endeavour to make bigger profits than he made in normal times. For that reason I was very anxious that the War-times Profits Bill proposed in the previous Parliament should be enacted. I would, however, have opposed any proposals to take only 50 per cent. of the excess profits, and I hope that when the Government introduce their proposed legislation they will provide for the taking of the whole, or nearly the whole, of the excess profits. There are special eases - that can be dealt with separately, but, in the main, all profits in excess of those of normal times should go to the Treasury to assist in financing the country and in repatriating our soldiers. In a time of stress like the present any man ought to be well satisfied if his business is as profitable as it was in pre-war times, and he is not justified in extorting money from the people by charging excessive prices. I am glad that even to a limited extent the Government have made an’ effort to regulate the price of commodities, and, although I have heard people complaining that price-fixing by the Commonwealth authority has not been effective, I believe it has done some measure of good. If the Commonwealth Government had not intervened in the sugar industry, the consumers would probably be paying 6d. per pound for sugar, and in connexion with butter and other necessaries the people have been protected against excessive prices to some extent at least. In my opinion, price-fixing must be made more general than it is. The farmer complains that in connexion with’ all his products price-fixing obtains, but for the articles he requires in the conduct of his industry no prices are fixed. I hope we shall have an extension of the principle on perhaps a better basis than now operates.
I commend the action of the past Government in controlling in these times the marketing of wheat, wool, hops, and other staple products, and I think the Government might take similar steps in regard to fruit. It is true that fruit is a more perishable product than the others, and, therefore, the control of exportation may be more difficult, but there ought to be some effort made to protect an honest and not very inconsiderable section of the community. In Tasmania, the fruitgrowing industry has assumed large dimensions, and hundreds of people have put their all into orchards, and are dependent on fruit production for their livelihood. If in the coming season there is no arrangement made for the carriage of fruit to other markets of the world, ruination will stare the orchardists in the face.
– In accordance with the sessional order, I now put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 July 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1917/19170713_SENATE_7_82/>.