13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Bill brought up by Mr. Francis, and read a first time.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the House will be informed prior to the Christmas adjournment of the stage which the negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the purchasers of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers have reached?
– Whatever information is available, and can bo safely disclosed, will bc furnished to the House. I see no prospect of the negotiations now proceeding being completed before the Christmas adjournment, but the Government will make a statement on the subject as soon as it is in a position to do so.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether in connexion with the loss of the steamer Ferndale, insurance was paid to the Government or to the purchasers of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, who have failed to meet their obligations to the Commonwealth?
– The disposal of insurance moneys is amongst the matters that are now the subject of negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the company. When a general state ment regarding the transaction is made, to the House, the insurance also will be dealt with.
– How long have these negotiations been proceeding? When does the Prime Minister expect them to be completed, and when may the House expect a statement on the subject?
– The negotiations have been proceeding from the date on which the purchasers failed to meet their liability to the Commonwealth Government. I cannot indicate when a statement on the subject will be made to the House.
Mr.ROSEVEAR. - Is the Government really pushing the company for payment ?
– The Government is doing its best.
– Are the negotiations with those who purchased the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers being undertaken directly by the Commonwealth Government, or by the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) ?
– From the inception of the negotiations, which began before the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) proceeded to London, the Government has kept in direct contact with the purchasers. Naturally, now that the Minister without Portfolio is in London, he is representing the Government in the matter. 1 assure honorable members that every endeavour is being made to safeguard the interests of the taxpayers of Australia.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, if the payment of the Australian war debt to Great Britain is resumed by thu Commonwealth, the £6,000 subsidy to Huddart Parker and Company for the Sydney to Hobart steamship service will be affected?
– If the payment of war debts is resumed, the Government will have to reconsider the whole of its financial arrangements for the year. No portion of the proposed subsidy to Huddart Parker and Company, has been paid, or will be paid for some months; in fact, very little of the subsidy will be payable in the current financial year.
– Will ‘the Prime Minister state whether Australia is to be represented at the World Economic Conference? If it is to be so represented, has the Government decided on the personnel of the delegation, and will the House have an opportunity to discuss who shall represent Australia?
– The Commonwealth Government will be represented at the conference, which I hope will be attended by the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce), but no definite arrangements have yet been made.
– I have received the following telegram from Alice Springs: -
Man stranded here Granites, self included. Can’t get home. Do something. Wire results.
I ask the Minister for the Interior what assistance can be furnished to those men ?
– The reports furnished to rae support the statement contained in the telegram read by the honorable member, and I have ordered that an inquiry be made into individual cases. Whilst the Government accepts no responsibility in. regard to men who went to that field after being fully warned of the difficulties, it recognizes the venturesome spirit which prompted them, and the fact that if their quest for gold had been successful Australia would have benefited materially. Individual cases of hardship will be examined, and help will be granted where justified.
Expenses of Australian DELEGATIONS
– On several occasions I have sought information regarding the total and individual costs of the Australian delegations to Ottawa and the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. I ask the Prime Minister to state the reason for the delay in supplying the information, and when I shall be likely to receive it?
– Until full accounts have been received by the Government, the information sought by. the honorable member cannot be furnished.
– The former Minister for the Interior (Mr. Parkhill) promised that an audited balance-sheet of the stores connected with the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway would be laid on the table. I ask the present Minister for the Interior whether that information will be available before the Christmas adjournment ?
– An audited balancesheet is now in the possession of the department, but I understand that it is not customarily presented to Parliament. If, however, my predecessor promised to lay the balance-sheet on the -table, that promise will be honoured.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence lay on the table all papers and reports relating to Robert John Saunders, a trainee, who died shortly after returning from a military camp ?
– I shall ascertain whether the honorable member’s request can be complied with.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Defence whether the inter-departmental committee on civil aviation considered the claims of gliding clubs, as promised by the Minister for Defence ?
– The report has been considered by a sub-committee of Cabinet, but has not been finally dealt with. At a later date a summary of the document will be laid on the table.
– Will the Minister for Industry state whether the Commonmonwealth Government is in possession of information showing the effect of unemployment relief grants upon unemployment throughout Australia? If so, may honorable members receive copies of such reports?
– I shall inquire what information is in the possession of the department, and whether it can be made available.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make a statement regarding the negotiations for the lease of Cockatoo Island Dockyard? Does he not think that the House should be informed of the nature of the negotiations regarding the proposed sale of a national asset, having regard to the fact that no bona fide offer for the lease of the dockyard was received prior to the closing of tenders?
– As negotiations are still proceeding, I am unable to make any statement to the House on the subject.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral consider the advisability of introducing legislation to prohibit unauthorized organizations from claiming to represent returned soldiers?
– There is already statutory provision making it illegal for individuals falsely to represent themselves to be returned soldiers for the purpose of obtaining employment or for other purposes. The prohibition of organizations from falsely claiming to represent returned soldiers would obviously be difficult; but if the honorable member will inform me of the facts which prompted his inquiry, I shall see that consideration is given to the matter.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether any tenderers for the lease of the Hotel Wellington, Canberra, were advised that a satisfactory offer had been received, but that the Government intended to hold the hotel for educational purposes?
– Tenders for the leasing of the Hotel Wellington were invited by my predecessor. Two tenders were received, but neither was considered satisfactory. Further offers have been received since I have been Minister for the Interior, but they cannot be dealt with at present because the building is being utilized for educational purposes.
Although the offers may be regarded as satisfactory, no action can be taken at present because of certain circumstances which I am not at liberty to divulge.
The following papers were presented : -
Air Force Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 133.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 20 of . 1932 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia and the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 21 of 1932 - Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia; Amalgamated Engineering Union; and Australasian Society of Engineers.
Nos. 22 and 23 of 1932- Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia.
No. 24 of 1932 - Fourth Division Officers’ Association of the Trade and Customs Department; and Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 25 of 1932 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 26 of 1932 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia; Australian Postal Electricians’ Union; Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union; Commonwealth Legal Professional Officers’ Association; Commonwealth Postmasters’ Association ; Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association; Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association; Commonwealth Telegraph Traffic and Supervisory Officers’ Association ; Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association; Federated. Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia; Fourth Division Officers’ Association of the Trade and Customs Department; Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists’ Union; Line Inspectors’ Association, Commonwealth of Australia; Meat Inspectors’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service; Postal Overseers’ Union of Australia; PostmasterGeneral’s Department State Heads of Branches Association : and Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, Nos. 126, 132.
Nauru - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Nauru during the year 1931.
New Guinea - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of the Territory of New Guinea from 1st July, 1930, to 30th June, 1931.
Wine Export Bounty Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 128.
“WAR SERVICE HOMES AGREEMENT BILL.
Motion (by Mr. Francis), agreed to -
Thathe have leave to bring in a bill for an act to approve an agreement between His Majesty’s Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Commissioners of the State Savings Bank of Victoria and for other purposes.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the foregoing message be taken into consideration in committee of the whole House forthwith.
– As approval of the Prime Minister’s motion is one of the preliminary stages of the consideration of the bill, which is to take place without delay, and as the right honorable gentleman has not added to the explanation which he gave last night on the subject, I think that we are entitled to know precisely what course the Government intends to adopt when this motion has been carried. Last night the Prime Minister indicated that copies of the bill would be circulated among honorable members first thing this morning.
– I said that the bill would be circulated as soon as copies were ready.
– By its early circulation the honorable gentleman hoped to avoid the necessity of an adjournment after his second-reading speech had been delivered. Usually it is customary to adjourn a debate after the second-reading speech of the Minister, to enable honorable members to familiarize themselves with the contents of the measure and, perhaps, to obtain information which is not available within the precincts of the House. This bill did not come into the possession of my colleagues and myself until about 2 o’clock this afternoon, or an hour before the House met. As the Prime Minister has not kept his promise to give honorable members an opportunity to examine the bill, he should have indicated the intention of the Government in regard to its discussion. If we are required to proceed with the bill without an adjournment, there will be more or less a breach of faith on the part of the Government, and the House will have been treated with scant courtesy; for no one can assert with any truth that we have had a reasonable opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the contents of the measure. I realize that honorable members opposite are in a more favorable position than we are to gain prior information. It is usual for a government to discuss such matters with its supporters before introducing them in the House.
– Did the honorable member inquire for the bill before 2 o’clock?
– Yes, at a quarter to 12 to-day. I rang both of the secretaries who are attached to the Prime Minister, and I was informed that the measure was not available, and I could not be told when it would be. At 2 o’clock, copies of the bill were delivered to my colleagues and myself. I expected that as the Prime Minister had not been able to supply the bill at an early hour, he would, this afternoon, make some explanation of what he intended to do. He cannot expect honorable members to fall in with his ideas without first explaining matters.
– I have no desire to cause honorable members any inconvenience.
– The honorable member has not added anything to his explanation of last night. I do not blame him, if he thinks he can get away with these rush tactics ; but my colleagues and I will make every endeavour to see that opportunities are afforded to honorable members to study the contents of the bill. I wish to know exactly where we stand, so thatwe may know how to deal with the matter.
– Last night, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) asked the House to facilitate the early consideration of this measure, and said that the Government would adopt the unusual procedure of circulating a preliminary copy of the bill as soon as it could be made available, which, it was hoped, would be at a reasonably early hour this morning. Unfortunately, the drafting of the bill, which continued until a late hour last night, proved more than ordinarily difficult and intricate, and copies of the measure were not received by the Government until about 12.30 p.m. to-day. It is recognized that thus there has been little opportunity for honorable members to familiarize themselves with the precise effect of this legislation, which affects other measures recently amended in this Parliament. The Government is prepared to do anything that is reasonable to meet the desires of honorable members. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) is prepared to follow the Prime Minister after the right honorable gentleman has moved the second reading of the bill. If there is then a general desire on the part of honorable members that there shall be a short adjournment to enable them to study the bill, the Government will be perfectly prepared to agree to it. It may be found that if the Prime Minister makes his second-reading speech, and is followed by the Leader of the Opposition, we can adjourn the discussion until after dinner. I assure honorable members that the desire of the Government is merely to save their time, and to afford them the fullest opportunity of considering the effect of these provisions.
– I received a copy of the bill at 12.30 p.m., and have read it. I find that it gives effect, in the main, to the principles enunciated a few days ago by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). Because of that, I am prepared to follow the right honorable gentleman this afternoon with my secondreading speech. I agree that the time at the disposal of honorable members to study the bill hasbeen scanty. Last night, I accepted the assurance of the Prime Minister that there would be no attempt to rush the bill through its committee stages. It is essentially a committee bill, and really embodies several bills in one. Therefore, we should have every opportunity in committee to debate the several principles involved. The second-reading debate does not concern me so much as the discussion of the committee stages. Irrespective of the hour at which the second-reading debate is concluded, the Government should not proceed with the committee stages this evening.
.- Members of the Country party, who are especially interested in one part of the bill, would welcome a brief adjournment after the second-reading speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the
Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). We do not ask that the break should btlengthy, but we need a little time to examine the measure more closely.
– I think that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is unnecessarily worried over this matter. I have merely proceeded with the formal motion that the House should resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider the bill.
– I desired to get in early.
– I made it quite clear last night that I had no intention of robbing honorable members of the opportunity to consider the measure. I gave my assurance that there would be no limitation of the rights of honorable members, who3e convenience would be consulted in every way. I assure the honorable member for West Sydney that that is still my intention. As the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) pointed out, delay occurred in drafting the bill, for which the Government could not be held responsible. As soon as the measure was printed, it was circulated, and copies were sent to the room of the honorable member for West Sydney with all expedition. In view of the requests of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) and the Acting Leader of the Country party (Mr. Paterson), the Government will agree to the adjournment of the debate on the second reading of the bill, when the Leader of the Opposition has finished his speech, until after the dinner adjournment. The Government accepts the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, and will not ask that the bill be carried beyond the second reading stage to-day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to reduce taxation, to remove anomalies in relation to invalid and old-age pensions, to provide financial relief for wheatgrowers and other primary producers, and for other purposes.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Mr. Lyons and Mr. Guy do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought, up by Mr. Lyons, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is a comprehensive measure, which incorporates most of the Government’s proposals for relief of which I informed the House on the 10th instant. It provides ‘for, first, amendments of the Land Tax, Income Tax, and Sales Tax Assessment acts; secondly, for amendments of the invalid and old-age pensions law to remove certain anomalies; and finally, for payments to wheatgrowers, and financial assistance to the States to enable them to assist users of artificial fertilizers other than wheatgrowers.
Before dealing in detail with the provisions of the bill, I draw attention to the alteration of circumstances which has occurred since I made the announcement on which this measure is based. When introducing the budget, and again when malting my supplementary financial statement on the 10th November, 1932, and forecasting this bill, I reminded the Parliament and the country of the uncertainty of the financial outlook because of our contingent liability to Britain, and the possibility of having to resume payments in respect of our funded war debt to the British Government. Although various press reports have appeared on the subject, no official information is yet available as to the attitude which the United States of America propose to adopt to the request of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom for the continued suspension of war debt payments pending conversations on the matter. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Government is following the proceedings closely, in view of their direct relation to Australia’s war debt payments to the United Kingdom.
It is perhaps unnecessary to remind Parliament that the war debt owed by the United Kingdom to the United States of America arose out of obligations for goods purchased in the United States of America for the allied cause, for which the Government of the United Kingdom assumed responsibility. In the international funding operations that took place consequent upon the adjustment of war debts between nations, the basis of the various agreements made between the United Kingdom and her allies was that the United Kingdom would receive no more, in the aggregate, from war debts and reparations than she had to pay to America. ‘ This decision involved a great sacrifice on the part of Great Britain.
The Lausanne agreement made last July not only put an end to the payment of reparation by Germany and others, but also suspended the international war debt payments in the European zone. It is easy to envisage in these circumstances what the resumption of Britain’s payments to America means to the British taxpayer. Though the debts of the dominions to the United Kingdom were in reality in no way related to those international war debts, but represented advances made by the United Kingdom to the dominions out of moneys lent by British taxpayers, the British Government magnanimously agreed to suspend payments of both the interest and principal of dominion debts during the currency of the Hoover moratorium. This was in accord with the principle adopted by Great Britain that she would ask her debtors to pay only what she was obliged to pay to her creditors. It is obvious from what I have just said, that if the United Kingdom is called upon to resume her payments to the United States of America, Australia cannot expect complete freedom from her obligations to the United Kingdom. There will, in all probability, be some adjustment in respect, of our debt to the United Kingdom, but unless it is found possible, in the negotiations which must take place in reference to this matter, to adjust reparations and debt payments in such a way that no additional burden will fall upon the British taxpayers, the Australian taxpayers must at an early date be prepared to share the burdens arising out of international war obligations.
When I announced the proposals of the Government which are incorporated in this measure, I warned the House and the country that the contemplated remissions of taxation would only be made in respect of this financial year. We could not then, and can still less now, give any guarantee that these remissions will stretch into the future. I make it quite clear that the proposals as they stand represent the maximum amount of money which can be found at present for expenditure on relief measures. To the extent that the available money is devoted to the relief of the wheat-growers, there is so much less relief to the taxpayers.
The Government had hoped that this bill would be the precursor of others designed to lighten the burdens that press so heavily upon our people, and it may be that the course of events will still enable us to give effect to our desires and intentions in this regard, whether we have to resume the payments to the United Kingdom or not, but taxation can only be reduced provided that the full cooperation of every member of the House is extended to the Government in limiting expenditure to the lowest possible pointcompatible with efficiency.
Once taxation has been imposed, the tendency of parliaments is to regard the position as static, and to shape expenditure so as to keep it in pace with the revenue. I appeal to every member of the House, in the exercise of his responsibility as a trustee of the Australian people, to assist the Government to resist claims upon the public purse. I am sure that every member must be fully alive to the necessity of maintaining budget equilibrium, and of doing so without adding to the existing burden of taxation.
The Government believes that the policy which will best conduce to the prosperity of our people in the long run is one which is directed towards the lightening of the burden of taxation that is not only hampering both primary and secondary industry, but is also a drag on progress, and a most potent factor in accentuating unemployment. So long as the returns from the investment of capital are subject to the existing taxation imposts, enterprise will be handicapped and development seriously retarded.
Another detrimental -effect of high taxation is that it keeps up costs and, in particular, interest rates. Low interest rates are of the greatest encouragement to enterprise and development; but wc cannot get interest rates and other fixed charges to as low a point as they ought to be while taxation remains as high as it is at present. High interest rates are one of the fixed items of costs which weigh most heavily on our primary producers during this period of low prices.
It is of the utmost importance to the unemployed and to the struggling primary producer that we should get rid of as great a part as possible of our taxation burden. The dictates of reason and common sense, and the demands of sane statesmanship, bid us to bend all our energies to the lightening of the burden of taxation. This will not only assist in providing employment for the workers, but will also reduce the cost of living, for the benefit of the employed worker. But no government can follow this course unless its efforts meet with the wholehearted support of Parliament. The tendency of modern times to look to governments for every conceivable sort of support is so well known to all of us, thai it is unnecessary for me to stress it; and yet, unless Parliament ‘is prepared to scrutinize with the utmost’ care every demand that is made upon it, and to grant assistance only in cases in which the meeting of the need is essential to the maintenance of the economic structure of our country, I fear that our recovery will be most seriously retarded. If we yield to every clamant demand that is made upon us; if wc conduct our affairs in these days without regard to the serious nature of the times in which we live; if to do what is immediately popular is to be the impelling motive of our actions, then, there is no hope of our straightening out our finances and of reducing taxation to normal levels. In any case, the heavy obligations arising from the war have to be met. To that extent it is impossible to reduce our commitments to pre-war levels. Exchange payments swell the expenditure of thE Commonwealth and the States to a large extent, and add to the demands made upon the taxpayer in excess of normal obligations. And yet there must be reduction of taxation if we are to meet the most urgent needs of industry, enterprise, and employment.
I, therefore, make the strongest appeal to every member of this Parliament and to the country to assist the Government in its effort to keep expenditure within the smallest possible compass - to limit the demands upon the Treasury to cases of real necessity, and to leave in the pockets of the taxpayers every penny that the Treasury can do without. I make this appeal in the confidence that private enterprise can, if given the opportunity, do more - far more - than governments to employ our people and to build up industry. It is with these objects in view that the Government has decided to ask Parliament to agree to the measure now submitted to it. Our only regret is that we are unable, at present, to propose a much greater remission of taxation. But the proposals which we are submitting will, we hope, give relief where it is most needed, and pave the way for further remissions later on, should circumstances enable the Government to propose them.
The first of the proposed remissions of taxation to which I draw the attention of the House is the reduction of the land tax by éne-third. Unquestionably, in a number of instances this tax is being paid out of capital. The Government, therefore, also asks the Parliament to assent to an alteration of the law which will permit the Hardship Board to grant relief from the payment of the tax in those cases where, by reason of the low prices of primary products, the taxpayer cannot pay his tax out of earnings. Honorable members who have read the report of the Wool Committee will realize that the cumulative effect of this direct and indirect remission of taxation now proposed will go a long way towards meeting the recommendations of that committee in this regard. _ The Government feels that it is essential that every effort should be made to lighten the burden on primary producers created by this form of taxation. There is no question that it is in Australia’s best interests that the wool industry should have extended to it at this time every consideration within our power. All primary producers are suffering because of the low prices that they are getting for their products. The Government feels that, where the taxpayer has, on that account, lost all his income, and is able to pay this tax only out of capital, the law should permit of the taxation being waived by the Hardship Board. Land taxation, especially at this time of stress, is particularly onerous. It is one of the factors that helps to increase the fixed costs of industry. The larger the industry the more heavily it presses. In bad times fixed costs are the most intransigent of the factors with which business and industry have to wrestle in reducing costs. The remission of this class of taxation will help to reduce costs, to increase confidence, and to promote the flow of money into enterprise. To the extent to which it sets money free, it will add to the fund available for unemployment.
The next provision of the bill to which I wish to draw the attention of honorable members is section 6, which gives effect to my promise to give relief in regard to the special tax of 10 per cent, on property income. This tax should, at the first opportunity, be entirely removed. It is undoubtedly one of the taxes which is tending to keep up interest rates. It has been estimated that each 1 per cent, interest on a mortgage on the average wheat farm represents 3d. per bushel in relation to the wheat produced. It represents a similar impost on the cost of production of all primary products; indeed, interest is reflected in the costs of all industry. Unfortunately, the circumstances confronting the Government at the moment make it impossible for it to do more than give a small measure of relief from this tax, which will, in the main, be of benefit to a large number of small property-owners, on whom this tax presses with great severity. It is proposed to make the exemption from this tax £250 on a fiat rate basis, applicable only to individuals resident in Australia. It will not apply to companies or to absentees. This variation in the exemption represents a remission of £500,000 of income tax per annum.
-Whatis the estimated loss of revenue with respect to land tax?
– The reduction of the land tax by one-third will mean a loss of revenue of between £600,000 and £700,000. That will be the loss to the Treasury in addition to the loss that will be entailed by extension of the “ hardship “ provisions of the act.
I now come to the last of the remissions of taxation covered by this bill. It relates to exemptions from sales tax. With only a limited field in which, because of the financial exigencies of the situation, it is possible to contemplate remissions, the Government has had to consider carefully in what direction the fresh exemptions should be made. Parliament has already assented to measures granting exemptions which have given a large measure of relief to the primary producers. The Government thinks that further exemption should cheapen the food of the people, and particularly those foods in respect of which reduce’d costs will stimulate consumption, and again help primary production. In doing this we are strictly limited by the amount of money available. It may be that honorable members can think of a hundred other items from which the tax might, with equal justice, be lifted. We cannot, however, compass them all. The Government has selected for exemption from the sales tax some of those commodities which are in popular use, and hopes, at the same time, to assist such deserving primary producers as the orchardist, the market gardener, and the fisherman. The goods now to be exempted are -
Fish of Australian origin;
Jams, fruit pulp, canned and bottled fruits, and canned vegetables;
Golden syrup and treacle;
Fruit extracts manufactured in Australia;
Pickles, sauces and vinegar;
Cakes which are now taxable.
There is one item, however, which does not fall within the same category as the commodities just mentioned, yet I make no apology for including it in the list of exemptions at this time. I refer to books, magazines and periodicals, including printed music. The Government has already, by proclamation, removed primage from these articles.
The sales tax and primage on books placed a heavy impost on students, schools and universities, and the Government considers that the time has come when these taxes should be removed. I have no doubt that this action will meet with the approbation of all sections of the House.
Poison carts are also included in the exemptions. They, as has already been pointed out by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), were omitted from the list of agricultural items recently exempted from the sales tax.
One of the objects of this bill is to remove anomalies that have been discovered in the administration of the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act. The maximum rate of pension payable under the act is £39 per annum, or 15s. per week, but the rate of pension, together with the pensioner’s income must not exceed £71 10s. per annum, or 27s. 6d. per week. The act, however, contains a special provision under which a person whose income is less than 2s. 6d. per week and whose property is not sufficient to affect the rate of his pension, may receive pension up to £45 10s. per annum, or 17s. 6d. per week. The general intention of the act is to permit a pensioner to have income, plus pension, up to 17s. 6d. per week.
There are four classes of pensioners, namely, those who have (1) no income or property; (2) some income but no property; (3) no income but some property ; (4) both income and property.
The first class is provided for under the existing act, which enables a pension of £45 10s. per annum, or 17s. 6d. per week to be paid to them. The second class is also covered by the existing law, which provides for the payment of a pension at a rate which will bring the pensioner’s income, plus pension, up to £45 10s. peT annum, or 17s. 6d. per week. With regard to the third class, a pensioner who has no income and whose property does not exceed £59 in value may also receive a pension of £45 10s.per annum. Where, however, the property amounts to £60, a pension of £38 per annum only is payable. Thus the possession of additional property to the value of £1 causes a reduction of £7 10s. per annum in the rate of pension. To remove this anomaly it is intended to introduce the following graduated scale of increased payments to pensioners who have property hut no income: -
In the fourth class - pensioners who possess both income and property - a graduated scale of increased payments similar to the foregoing will apply, with the difference, however, that the amount of the “ additional pension “ will be reduced by the amount of the pensioner’s income. In order to facilitate the administration of the law, the proposed scale is not included in the amending bill, but will be prescribed by regulation. Details of that scale will be supplied to honorable members at the committee stage. Any increase in pension found on review to be payable under the proposed amendment will be paid with arrears from the 13th October, 1932.
When the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act was recently amended to provide for the recovery of pension from the estate of a deceased pensioner, it was found necessary, in order to protect the interests of the Commonwealth, to provide that any transfer or mortgage of real estate made without the consent of the Commissioner of Pensions should be void. This was merely a measure of protection, and it was not intended that it should operate harshly in regard to genuine dealings in property. It has been suggested that cases may arise in which, through an oversight, a transfer or mortgage has been accepted without the prior consent of the Commissioner. A case in point would be one in which a contract of sale was entered into prior to the passing of the Financial Emergency Act 1932, but the transfer was not effected until after that act came into operation, and the necessity for obtaining the consent of the Commissioner to the transfer was overlooked by the parties concerned. So that such transactions may not become void, it is proposed to amend the act to provide that sub-sections 4 and 5 of section 52d shall not apply in any case in which the failure to obtain the Commissioner’s consent was due to inadvertence, and such consent was subsequently obtained.
Under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act the Commissioner of Pensions may recover from the estate of a deceased pensioner all pension paid to him after the 12th October, 1932, and not previously repaid to the Commonwealth. It has been represented that, in a number of cases, pensioners possess homes which have been purchased for them either wholly or in part by their children, on the understanding that, on the death of the parents, the property will revert to the children out of whose earnings it was acquired. There is also the case of the son or daughter who has devoted his or her life to the care of the parents, and to whom the home occupied by the family is to revert as a recompense. Under the existing law, however, this property, if it form part of the pensioner’s estate, is subject to the Commonwealth’s claim for reimbursement of pension paid, and the interests of the child or children are affected to that extent, with the result that hardship may be caused. In order that relief may he afforded in cases of hardship, it is proposed to empower the Commissioner, on application by a pensioner or by a person who has an interest in the estate of a deceased pensioner, to exempt any property or estate, either wholly or in part, from the charge imposed by section 52e of the act, or to postpone the charge until any other specified claim had been satisfied. Recently, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) mentioned the case of a widowunder 55 years of age who was destitute, and who would, naturally, have an interest in the property of her deceased husband. He asked whether the Commonwealth would waive its claim against the property while she lived. Under the proposed amendment of the act, the widow can make application to the Commonwealth, which may waive its claim insofar as it affects her.
With a view to protecting the interests of persons dealing in property, a regulation has been framed whereby such persons may ascertain from the Deputy Commissioner of. Pensions whether the owner of the property is, or has been, a pensioner, and if so, the amount of the charge on the property. A person who has made inquiries in accordance with this regulation is entitled to deal with the owner of the property upon the basis that the information furnished by the Deputy Commissioner is correct. In order to remove doubts which have been expressed as to the effectiveness of this regulation, and in view of the importance of the subject, it is considered desirable that the provision should be given the force of legislation, rather than that it should be left to an administrative act. It has, therefore, been decided to insert the provision in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. This will provide a further safeguard, in that any future alteration of the provision will not be possible without the approval of Parliament. The bill also provides that any person proposing to deal in property may ascertain from the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions whether the owner of the property is a claimant for a pension.
It has been brought under the notice of the Government that some pensioners are receiving payment at reduced rates, because they own property, even though it is not producing income. In some of these cases it is represented that, since the pension was assessed, the property has depreciated in value, and all efforts to dispose of it have been unsuccessful. In order to grant relief in those cases, itis proposed to amend the act to enable the Commonwealth to accept a transfer of such property, provided it is unencumbered, and the value of the property will thereupon cease to affect the rate of pension. It is proposed to make a like concession in respect of any interest which the pensioner or claimant may possess under a will.
– The Commonwealth proposes to set up an estate agency.
– We recognize that it would be unfair to reduce a pension because the pensioner owns property which is not producing income, but of which the nominal value has been arbitrarily fixed at some time in the past.
– With the return to prosperity, the Commonwealth may make some money out of transferred property.
– Honorable members cannot have it both ways. If they claim that pensioners should not have their pensions reduced, because they own what are claimed to be valueless properties, they cannot object if the Commonwealth takes over those properties, nor is it fair to charge the Government, when it does that, with trying to make a profit. From the day a transfer flakes place, the pension paid by the Commonwealth to the pensioner will be increased, so that for the time being, . at any rate, the Commonwealth will lose by the deal.
On the 10th November I stated that the Government proposed to assist wheatgrowers in two ways, namely, (1) by a grant of £1,250,000, to be distributed through the States to wheat farmers who are in the greatest need; (2) by a bounty of £1 a ton on superphosphates to encourage further production. Since then it has been represented that the Government should modify this proposal, particularly as regards the bounty on superphosphates. It has also been stated that the full amount of the assistance should be given by way of a straight-out bounty on production, as was done last year, or by a bounty on. export. The Government has given further consideration to both these suggestions. The suggestion for a bounty on wheat; either on production or export, was thoroughly explored before I made my statement on the 10th November. Under such an arrangement, the farmer with the greatest yield would receive the greatest benefit, while the farmer in the greatest need would receive the least benefit. In addition, the payment of a bounty on the basis of production involves money being paid from the public treasury to some persons who are not in need of assistance.
The Government believes that there are vital objections to the bounty system, and can see no justification for varying its previous decision not to pay a bounty on production. ‘ The proposed bounty of £1 a ton on superphosphates was intended to assist primary producers in obtaining artificial fertilizers, and to encourage production next season. The Government adheres to its original intention to grant assistance for the purchase of fertilizers so far as it relates to other branches of primary production ; but, in view of the definite rejection of the proposal by the wheat-growers’ organizations throughout Australia, it has been decided not to extend this form of assistance to the wheat industry, but to make £2,000,000 available to the States for assistance to wheatgrowers. This money will be made available inaccordance with the following allocation, which is based on the quantity of wheat produced in each State last year : -
The bill provides that the States shall not distribute this money on the basis of production, but subject to this the States will bo free to assist the wheat-growers in reducing costs, and particularly to assist those growers who are suffering the greatest hardship.
-Why make that condition ?
– The Government believes that there is no justification for. the payment of a bounty, but it believes that the farmers suffering the greatest hardship should receive a substantial measure of assistance. An additional sum of £250,000 is to be made available, also, for distribution through the States to assist primary producers, other than wheat-growers, in the purchase of artificial fertilizers, with a view to increasing production. It is intended that this assistance shall take the form of a flat rate of 15s. for each ton of fertilizer - the amount to be paid direct to the user. Previously, it was proposed that a subsidy of £1 a ton would be paid on superphosphates used by wheat-growers. Now that it has been decided to make the subsidy available to primary producers other than wheat-growers, the sum of £250,000 will be sufficient to provide a subsidy of only 15s. a ton.
– The money is to be made available to the users, not to the States?
– It will be distributed by the States; but on condition that it will be paid to the users, and not to the fertilizer companies.
– Has the money been allocated in definite amounts to the various States?
– That is not necessary, because the subsidy will be paid on every complete ton of fertilizer used.
– Queensland, in which practically no fertilizers are used for wheat growing, will get nothing.
– I admit that, under the previous scheme, which provided for a subsidy on superphosphates only, Queensland would get practically nothing, but under the present scheme, every kind of fertilizer is included. Tasmania, for instance, would receive only an infinitesimal amount under the previous scheme, but a considerable quantity of fertilizers are used there, both superphosphates and other varieties, outside the wheatproducing areas. Tasmania will now receive quite a considerable proportion of the sum of £250,000 to be distributed. Owing to the varied forms of primary production in Australia, it has been found that, unless the grant to the States to assist primary producers to purchase artificial manures is spread over twelve months, grave injustice will be done to producers in some of the States.It has therefore been decided to make the grant available over a period of twelve months.
The Government feels that it has gone as far in granting relief as it can go with safety under existing conditions. It has tried to give relief to the taxpayers, primary producers or pensioners in a way that will be really effective. The operation of the bill is limited to this financial year, but if it is found necessary to resume the payment of war debts, the Government may have to vary its programme. If payment of war debts are renewed, Australia will have to find something like £2,500,000 for the balance of this year. I hope that this position will not. arise, but if it does, the Government must act as it thinks fit.
.- This is really an omnibus Mil, covering many subjects. To some of its objects, we on this side are strongly opposed, while with others we are in agreement. The bill provides for the reduction of land tax and income tax almost immediately after the Government has made some cruel cuts in pensions and wages. The Opposition cannot support that. The bill, however, removes some of the hardships imposed by recent amendments of the Pensions Act, and, to that extent, it will receive our support. In committee, we shall endeavour to separate the corn from the cockle. The Prime Minister referred to our war debt obligation to the British Government, and inadvertently stated that following the Hoover moratorium, Great Britain had agreed to suspend Australia’s payments of principal and interest. That is 11Ot quite correct. The Hoover moratorium affected only interest payments. The suspension of Australia’s payments of principal for two years was agreed to by the British Government prior to the Hoover moratorium, and whatever effect the non-extension of the moratorium may have on British payments to the United States of America, and Australian payments of interest to Great Britain, the suspension of our payments of principal will operate for two years, including the present financial year. Unfortunately, there is grave doubt of the future of Avar debt payments, and I expected the Prime Minister to state what will be the position of the Commonwealth Government if it is required to pay the interest falling due in the present financial year. I gathered from his reply to my question yesterday, that he would deal with that subject to-day. He has merely said that because of the uncertainty regarding war debts and for other reasons, the proposed remissions of taxation will apply only to the present year. Presumably, that condition extends also to the concessions granted to old-age pensioners. Assuming that no satisfactory arrangement can be made by the United Kingdom with the United States of America, and Australia is required to resume payments of interest, the sum to be found in the current financial year will be approximately £4,600,000, according to a statement by the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral in yesterday’s newspapers.
– That would be for the full year, but the amount recently due was postponed, and the amount becoming due before June will be about £2,450,000.
– Is not that subject to the arrangement to be made with the United States of America? However, possibly the whole or at least half of the interest due this year to Great ‘ Britain will have to be paid in the current financial year, and no provision is being made by the Government to meet that liability. The limitation of the taxation reductions to the present financial year cannot be regarded as such a provision.
This bill is practically a supplementary budget measure. Following the introduction of the main budget in September, this Parliament dealt with an amendment of the Financial Emergency Act by which invalid and old-age pensions, the maternity allowance, and Public Service salaries were reduced. Those proposals were supported by Ministers and their supporters with many gloomy statements regarding the revenue prospects for the financial year. Clearly that was done to prepare the way for the remission of taxation to people who can better afford to contribute to the revenue than old-age pensioners can afford to lose 2s. 6d. a week, or public servants to suffer a further reduction of their salaries. In order to bolster up the case for reductions of taxation, the Prime Minister in the course of his budget speech said in reference to customs revenue -
We can be certain that the Ottawa agreement will bring about a reduction of revenue.
Notwithstanding some buoyancy of receipts in the first two months of this financial year, I do not think it is safe to budget for a greater revenue than £27,000,000.
That was put forward in justification of reductions of expenditure by £1,479,000, principally at the expense of invalid and old-age pensioners and public servants. Contending that there was no justification for these cruel cuts on top of the sacrifices previously made to balance the budget, in view of the fact that the budget for the year showed a surplus after allowing for the suspension of war debt payments, I said two months ago - lt is clear that receipts from customs revenue will vise. Already they have exceeded the estimates for the first two months by £034,0’‘1P.
I also pointed out that the Treasury report showed that in that period, the revenue had exceeded the expenditure by £2,141,000. I admitted that a portion of that credit balance could be explained, but the figures showed that the revenue had been under-estimated in order to make a ease for reducing Commonwealth contributions to the poorer sections of the community. Our protests and predictions then have been fully justified within two months by this proposal of the Government to absorb a surplus which the Treasurer had previously stated did not exist. As the surplus does exist, and as the cuts were said to be made only because of necessities arising from an anticipated deficit, the Government, when it discovered that it had under-estimated the revenue, should have decided to do the decent thing and reduce the sacrifices required of the poorer sections of the people. In reply to my speech on the Financial Emergency Act on the 21st September, the Attorney-General very unfairly suggested that my criticism was not helpful in that it did not indicate where the Government could obtain the additional money required to maintain the former rates of payment to the pensioners and public servants. Throughout our criticism we emphasized that there would be no need to effect these reductions if the Government did not remit taxation. The AttorneyGeneral said -
Thu Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government had under estimated its revenue for the year.
Has not that been proved by the Prime Minister’s statement to-day?
The Government, however, thought it proper to he candid with the people.
The Government ha3 proved its want of candour. Obviously, the revenue had been under-estimated. The Government was not candid; it was incorrect, to state the fact mildly. The Attorney-General, in justification of the reductions of pensions and Public Service salaries, said that the Commonwealth was in a bad financial position and added -
The outstanding accumulated deficit of the Commonwealth for which no provision has been made is £17,210,000.
I had said in passing that tha budgetary crisis was over and, therefore, a further attack on pensions and salaries was not warranted. I did not say that the economic and financial crisis of Australia had passed, but in reply to my criticism members of the Ministerial and Country parties emphasized the accumulated deficit of £17,216,000 and the possibility of having to resume the payments of interest on the overseas war debt. The Attorney-General further said -
If the Commonwealth were required to pay interest to the British Government on war debts, the deficit would be £7,081,000. The financial position is still difficult, and it is not safe to trust to luck.
He repeated that phrase, suggesting that the Opposition was irresponsibly trusting to luck, and that its protest was without foundation. The Prime Minister has since informed the House that the estimated surplus will be £3,000,000, confirming the prediction we made two months ago. The statements of Ministers were clearly intended to prepare the way for handing back to the supporters of the Government large amounts of land and income taxation. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 30th July reported the Prime Minister as having said, in reply to a deputation which asked for a reduction of land taxation -
The objective towards which this Government will work is the abolition of the land tax.
The federal land tax is one of the strongest planks of the Labour platform, and foi- twenty years the Prime Minister, as a Labour member, supported the principle of that tax, defending the right of the Commonwealth to take for revenue purposes a proportion of the unearned increment created by the expenditure of public money on railways, roads, public buildings, &c. If ever there was a legitimate subject for taxation, it is the unimproved value of land. Now the land tax is to be reduced, and listening to the Prime Minister’s speech, one would imagine that this step is being taken solely in the interests of the struggling farmer. Not one small struggling farmer will be relieved by this bill. The impression is given that all the land tax is paid by farmers and graziers, but actually they pay less than one-third of it. The latest returns available regarding the distribution of land taxation are - town lands, £1,920,000; country lands, £945,000.
– Is not the city taxation passed on?
– If it is, the workers have to bear the whole of it, and onethird of the workers are unemployed. The country lands that contribute the £945,000 aggregate 63,000,000 acres. The total improved value of town lands is £259,000,000 and the unimproved value £156,000,000; whereas the improved value of country land is £254,000,000, and the unimproved value £149,000,000. Honorable members will note that although the total improved values of town and country lands are approximately the same, only one-third of the taxation is paid by the latter. The total unimproved value of the land within the country and the town areas is approximately the same; yet the country land pays only one-third of the total tax, which shows that country lands are held in properties of smaller value than the city lands. In other words, the owners of city land subject to federal land tax are wealthy persons, holding land of great value. No struggling farmer pays federal land tax, because the federal Land Tax Act provides for two exemptions; first, the exemption of improvements, and, secondly, the exemption of unimproved value to the amount of £5,000. That is to say, no one pays federal land tax, the unimproved value ofw hose land is less than £5,000. Therefore, on an average wheat farm of 600 acres, no federal land tax is chargeable. On a farming grazing property having a capital value of £8,000, the value of improvements would be approximately £3,000, and, deducting that amount plus the exemption of £5,000, there would be no taxable value left. The owner of such a property will obtain no advantage under this measure, because he now pays no tax. Then, take the case of a man with a property valued at £10,000, and carrying improvements to the value of £4,000. Deducting the value of the improvements and the exemption of £5,000, he would pay £4 a year in federal land tax. A man with a property valued at £20,000, with improvements amounting to £8,000, would pay a tax of £16 a year. Thus the man with landed property worth £8,000 obtains no relief under this bill; the owner of a property worth £10,000 receives relief to the extent of about 27s. a year, and the owner of a £20,000 property gets relief to the extent of £5 10s. a year. But the owner of a property with a taxable value of £100,000 is relieved to the extent of £1000 a year! That is the whole secret of this legislation.
– The right honorable member is assuming that improvements are in a constant ratio to area; but that is not the case.
– I am basing my figures on a report of the Commissioner of Taxation. The people who will benefit most are the big banking institutions owning city properties, which have increased in value to a remarkable degree ; insurance offices, shinning and commercial offices, big land mortgage companies, and the great city proprietary stores, and the owners of chain stores possessing a considerable aggregation of land. Honorable members are aware of stores in the big cities of Australia which occupy whole blocks.
Mr.White. - They are also big employers.
– And they are also the big land taxpayers, who are now being relieved by the Government. The number that they employ does not compensate for the ruin that their monopoly of businesshas brought to the small suburban shopkeepers. The reason for the introduction of the federal land tax was to prevent the improper aggregation of land, the monopolizing of big areas, whether in the city or country, by a few. Now that object is being defeated, and land monopolists are being encouraged by the remission of land taxation. I could name a big company the share capital of which has increased within the last few months, whose dividends have increased, and which occupies one of the most valuable city blocks in Australia, to the detriment of suburban businesses. It is such companies that are being benefited. Nobody can say truthfully that the banking companies are losing money, even in these bad times. Yet they will benefit by this legislation, and benefit, too, at the expense of the old-age pensioners and public servants. Is it to be wondered, then, that there are mur- in uringa of revolt throughout the land ? These are the very things which cause the people to complain and to rebel against a government.
I have demonstrated in a practical manner on more than one occasion my sympathy for those who are struggling on the land. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who wishes to interject, knows that the wheat-farmers received more assistance from my Government than from this Government, yet he and his supporters never ceased to harass my Government, which persisted in its endeavours to help the wheat-farmers, despite the obstacles placed in its path by the friends of honorable members opposite in the Senate and by the banking institutions. Now, however, they are as mild as milk, in the face of the callous disregard by this Government of those whom he represents.
I have always approved of section 66 of the Land Tax Assessment Act, under which taxpayers may obtain relief in respect of the payment of land tax in case of hardship. I supported the imposition of the federal land tax on its introduction 22 years ago by the Fisher Government, and spoke in support of it in Parliament then. But I also approved of cases of hardship being left to the consideration of a board of three. It was realized that there come times when, because of droughts or other adverse conditions, land-owners are unable to obtain a sufficient income to maintain themselves, still less to pay taxation. Such an abnormal period now exists, due in the main to the drop in prices, and I quite approve of the hardships which are now being suffered being considered, and, if necessary, of releasing a sufferer from the payment of land tax. Let me read to honorable members a portion of section 66, in paraphrased form. The section provides that when a taxpayer has suffered such loss that the exaction of the full amount of the tax would entail serious hardship, or that, by reason of drought or adverse seasons, or other adverse conditions, returns from any land owned by him upon which he carries on agricultural or pastoral pursuits, have been seriously impaired, the board may release such taxpayer wholly, or in part, from his liability for land tax. There are other provisions, about insolvency, and so on, to which I need not refer. I support without any reservation the additional paragraph providing relief when land-owners suffer from a fall in prices to such an extent that the exaction of taxation would cause hardship. But that is an entirely different proposition from giving a general 33 per cent, reduction in land tax, irrespective of hardship, of need, or of any other justification, at a time when we cannot afford to reduce taxation. The Government has belittled our appeal on behalf of old-age pensioners, who have already suffered so much, and lower-paid public servants, who have been reduced below the bare cost of living, and were poorly paid before. We also advanced a plea for those railway men who toil on the deserts of Western Australia and South Australia, and whose wages were cut down at the request of this Government to a paltry amount which would not maintain anybody in reasonable comfort. Those reductions were brought about by the last amendment to the Financial Emergency Act. My Government inserted a clause in that act which prevented a reduction of the basie wage below £182 per annum. That provision was wiped out two months ago, and immediately afterwards the Government approached the Arbitration Court, through its representatives, and obtained a reduction which -is, I think, a disgrace to any civilized community. That was all done on the plea that there was no money. Yet the Government is handing back this considerable sum of money to the owners of valuable city properties. It is on that issue that we shall fight when the committee stage is reached.
At this juncture I shall not elaborate upon the further exemptions from sales tax that are proposed. I maintain the position that we should not remit taxation until we can adjust some of the hardships which were imposed at a critical time in the financial position of Australia. When we do reach the position when reductions are possible, I should prefer to see the rate of sales tax reduced rather than the number of exemptions increased. My Government granted certain exemptions for a special reason. This Government is increasing the list of exemptions merely because it has received requests from various influential sources. One would imagine that great concessions were being granted to those people who have to exist on the production of food supplies. I point out that the basic foods of the people were exempted when the sales tax was originally imposed. The Prime Minister indicated that the Government is exempting foods, especially those whose consumption will help the primary producers. Let me examine the list. Fish of Australian origin is exempted. No doubt that will assist the primary producer, but how many of the great mass of workers can afford to buy fish in these times? Again there are canned and bottled fruits, and canned vegetables. Those articles were among the luxury lines whose importation was prohibited by my Government. This Government lifted the prohibition. How are we going to help the primary producers by removing a tax of 6 per cent, on such items? They would have received more assistance if the prohibitions had been retained. In the list I also see cakes, which are not among the necessaries of life, however pleasing to the palate. Again, pickles, sauces, poison carts and books are exempted. I am as fond of and read as many books as most men, but, despite the vigorous agitation against their exemption from sales tax, I maintain that there is a long list of other articles just as worthy of relief from this imposition.
The Prime Minister said that the bill will remove certain anomalies in respect of pensioners. It also emphasizes some of the hardships which were imposed by previous amendments to the Financial Emergency Act, and still leaves many other hardships in existence. However, such matters can better be considered in committee. Honorable members will discover that some of the clauses are difficult of comprehension, being indefinite and not at all clear. The principal amendment in this respect refers to the provision which previously made the amount of pension paid chargeable against any property left by a pensioner. We are now told that, as a result of representations, the Government believes that many of these properties were purchased by the children of pensioners. If there is one thing more than another that was emphasized during the debate it was that the children of pensioners contributed to the cost of, and, in many cases, paid the entire purchase money for the homes occupied by their parents. At the request of the Prime Minister I asked him, upon notice -
Whether a pensioner’s widow, who is under 55 years of age and is not receiving any pension, and is in necessitous circumstances, will be called upon to repay the pension granted to her late husband since 12th October last before she can Secure possession of the home left to her by her husband.
In reply, the Prime Minister referred me to this bill. In. the speech which he has just delivered, he made some reference to cases of hardships. I find in the bill the following provision : - 52ea. - (1) The Commissioner may, upon application made by a pensioner or by a person who has an interest in the property of a pensioner or who has an interest in the estate of any deceased pensioner, exempt, either wholly or in part, any property or estate from the charge imposed by the last preceding section and may postpone, either wholly or in part, the charge until any other specified claim against the property or estate is satisfied, or until the death of the person having that interest.
But what is meant by “hardship”? That word will require some definition. It is probable the word will cover the case of a widow in necessitous circumstances. But take the case of son3 and daughters who had purchased a home for their pensioner parents, and put the title in their name. If upon, the death of the parents the children were not in actual destitution or in necessitous circumstances, would it be interpreted as a hardship to call upon them to pay back the money which their parents had drawn in pension ? This is a point which will require some attention in committee. To the extent that this bill modifies the provisions of the Financial Emergency Act in relation to pensions, we shall support it; but we regret that it does not go very much further, and repeal the whole of the obnoxious amendments that were made to our pensions law two months ago.
I come now to the proposal of the Government for the assistance of the wheatgrowers. There has been a good deal of backing and filling in this regard. First the Government said that it would do one thing, and then it said that it would do another. We have now reached the point at which it is definitely proposed that £2,000,000 shall be paid to the State Governments on the basis of - what ?
– Probably that interjection by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), who knows more about the position of the wheat farmer than any member of the Government, is not far wrong. It is a remarkable fact that the only Minister of the Government who had any recent personal experience of farming felt obliged to resign his portfolio. This Government has set its face strongly against the payment of a bounty on production, because it says that thatwould mean that the farmers with the largest crop would receive the largest benefit. Yet, the members of the Government are always talking about the need for more efficiency and greater production. In this case, it appears that the greater the production the greater the crime. Apparently it will be a great crime if the man with the highest yield gets a little more than a man with a low yield.
– Who says that it will be a crime?
– The possibility of it happening is so repugnant to the Government that it is laying down the condition that the States shall not disburse this money according to the production of individual farmers. But what is the basis upon which the money will be made available by this Government to the State Governments? It is the very basis of production which the State Governments may not adopt for the distribution of the money to individual farmers.
– The distribution to the States will be averaged over thousands of farmers.
– That is so; but still the State with the biggest yield will get the most money. The distribution to States is undoubtedly to be on the basis of the quantity of wheat produced.
– The State with the biggest area under wheat will get the biggest grant.
– Quantity is to be the basis of the grant to the States, but not to the individual. It is provided in the bill that -
Any money paid to a State . . . shall be applied by the State for the benefit and assistance of the wheat-growers, by -
reducing the cost of production of wheat; and
providing for the needs of individual wheat-growers but not upon the basis of the quantity of wheat produced by individual wheat-growers.
The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) seems to be eager to jump up to discuss this matter as a practical farmer-
– Which he happens to be.
– Well, perhaps he or some other member of the Government will tell us how this money is to be used for the purpose of “reducing the cost of production of wheat.” The Government must have some idea in its mind of how this can be done. There are certain lines of action which could be taken. The money could be used, for instance, for subsidizing wages. South Australia has attempted something in that line, but the exposures by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) were not creditable to those responsible. The money could be used, again, for subsidizing the purchase of superphosphates. This was the original intention of the Government, but it has now been departed from to a large extent. Some of the money could be used for subsidizing the purchase of farming machinery. But one thing that practically every farmer in Australia wants immediately is cash. The second way in which the grant may bo spent by the State Governments is in -
Providing for the needs of individual wheatgrowers, but not upon the basis of the quantity of wheat produced by individual wheatgrowers.
Surely if the needs of individual growers are to be met, individual cases must be investigated.
– All the farmers are in need.
– If that is so, the argument of the Government against making a grant to individual farmers on the basis of production falls to the ground. I believe that the great majority of our farmers are in need. There may be a few farmers who are not in need ; but they are so few that they do not warrant the Government making the invidious distinction proposed in this bill. The money proposed to be spent for the assistance of farmers could be distributed on a sounder basis than that laid down by the Government. It should be granted on the principle that tha National Parliament regards the production of wheat as a national service, and the ‘maintenance of the export of our surplus production as necessary in order to assist in preserving the solvency of the Commonwealth. That, in my opinion, is the only condition upon which this Parliament should enter the field of agriculture. Any measure of relief, as such, could be given by the State Governments, which control land, water services, railways, and agricultural conditions generally. The National Parliament should look at this subject only from the broad national aspect, and should grant assistance to wheat-growers to enable them to export their surplus product to assist in the balancing of our trade.
– Is it good business to stimulate production that is carried on at a loss?
– In special circumstances, yes. I discussed this aspect of the subject with representatives of the wheat-growers while I was Prime Minister, and when we had to face the possibility of this country defaulting in its financial undertakings overseas. I said then that even if it meant spreading the loss on production over the rest of the community, we must maintain the production of those goods for which we can find a market overseas, if we were to continue to pay our way. I say the same thing now.
– Would the right honorable gentleman subsidize wealthy farmers?
– I have yet to learn that there are many wealthy farmers in Australia.
Mr.Fenton. - We do not want to indulge in the practice of greasing the fat pig.
– That is true; but I do not think that there are many farmers who have grown fat on the wheat they have produced in the last three years. The small number of wheat-farmers who have a competence to-day have it in spite, and not because, of the wheat they have sold in the last three years. That is my opinion, though I do not speak dogmatically. The number of wealthy farmers in Australia is so small in comparison with the great bulk of needy farmers that this National Parliament is not justified in making the invidious distinction that the Government is proposing to make.
– Has the right honorable gentleman made that statement in Richmond ?
– I have. The electors of that constituency are intelligent; that is why I made it to them.
I have indicated in a general way my views on the provisions of this bill, but they will need further expansion at the committee stage. In my opinion, the loss to the revenue through the remission of land tax and income tax will be approximately £1,250,000, which is £250,000 more than the amount suggested by the Prime Minister. Practically the whole of that loss is being made up by the attack on our public servants and pensioners, who are being taxed, by way of reductions, to make up this loss of revenue which the Government is deliberately incurring. I ask honorable members to weigh that statement for themselves. When my Government made certain proposals for reductions two years ago, the principle underlying every proposal was that there should be equality of sacrifice. Those sacrifices were made fairly willingly, and without causing any trouble in the country. But two months ago this Government, on the plea of poverty and the necessity of balancing its budget, called for additional sacrifices from certain sections of the people, while, at the same time, it remitted taxation ; and it is now still further remitting taxation to the substantial benefit of the richest people in the Commonwealth.
.- I welcome the relief from taxation which this bill proposes. It seems to have become almost a habit for governments to group in one bill matters which normally would be submitted to Parliament in several measures. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) referred to the various subjects dealt with in this measure, but as he himself originated this practice when he introduced the Financial Emergency Bill, he should take it as a compliment that this Government is, in this respect, following in his footsteps.
– I made no complaint; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
– The reduction of land taxation will certainly be of great benefit to the wool industry. Some people regard the federal land tax as one which affects only the big land holder, and believe that any lightening of this burden is improper. This tax does not press only ou the big men, because partnerships owning in the aggregate a large area of land, have to bear a heavy impost, although the holding of each shareholder may be relatively small. But even if the federal land tax did affect only the big pastoralists, we should not do less than justice to any class of taxpayer. I regard this matter in the light of its effect on the industry rather than of its effect on the pocket of the individual. Woolgrowing is an industry which, in Australia, can be best conducted, in certain areas at any rate, on a large scale. Some parts of Australia are suited to closer settlement, but others are not, and can be most profitably utilized in big areas. The dryer areas, particularly, must be handled by men with a considerable amount of capital, and sometimes by a number of men pooling their resources and working in partnership.
– Such land would be rated low.
– It may be, but the fact of a number of men grouping their capital involves the payment of land tax out of proportion to what each man would pay on his separate holding. According to the report recently submitted by the Wool Committee, the tax is, in some instances - extreme instances I admit - as high as 2s. 6d. per sheep per annum on the stock-carrying capacity of the land. In connexion with large areas, the tax tends to become penal, and at 2s. 6d. per sheep per annum might easily absorb half the gross income from a property. Indeed, it works out at about £5 per bale of wool, a bale being worth, at the present prices of wool, from £11 to £12.
I am glad that the bill makes provision to waive the collection of land taxation where the Hardships Board, whose powers are to be extended, is satisfied that the income from a property is not sufficient to provide the tax. There is no doubt that in many instances in the last two years, during which the price of wool has been exceptionally low, the tax has been paid out of capital. That may be done for a year or two, but it cannot continue indefinitely. The proposed onethird reduction of the tax is to be limited to the year ending the 30th June, 1933, but I hope that it may be continued beyond that date. The Hardships Board, I understand, is not to be limited to the year 1932-33, but may relieve from tha payment of land taxation all those who j have been unable to pay it because of the insufficiency of the income from their properties.
Towards the close of his speech, the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that the States control the land, and I suggest that they should be allowed to control it for taxation purposes also. The sooner the Commonwealth vacates the field of land taxation in favour of the States, the better for all concerned. This form of taxation can be more appropriately dealt with by the States in view of the fact that they alone have jurisdiction over the land.
The bill contains provision for raising the exemption from the property super tax of 2s. in the £1 from £200 to £250, which will be in line with the present exemption in respect of income from personal exertion. The latter was formerly £300, and is now £250. This concession, however, is to be given only as regards the incidence of the super tax itself, and will not apply to ordinary property income, in connexion with which the present exemption of £200 will remain. There should be no discrimination in the amount of exemption between income from property and income from personal exertion. It seems to be regarded as reasonable that the rate of tax on’ income from property should be higher than that on income from personal exertion, and 1 do not dispute that, but discrimination in the amounts of exemption is unreasonable, and I have never heard any sound reason for it. Presumably, an exemption is allowed for the purpose of leaving to the taxpayer a modest living allowance -which is not to be reduced by income taxation. If that be sp, the same rule :should apply to a given income regardless <s>i its source. The income derived from property has no peculiar purchasing power in excess of that possessed by the same amount of money derived from personal exertion. And if £250 is a reasonable exemption to allow in respect of income from personal exertion, it should be equally reasonable in relation to income from property. Administration would certainly be simplified if the exemption were £250 all round, instead of, if the bill be passed, £250 for income from personal exertion, £250 in respect of the super tax of 2s. in the £1 on income from property, and £200 in respect of the ordinary tax on income from property. This afternoon, the Prime Minister admitted that the super tax of 2s. in the £1 on income from property forces up interest rates, and that, as soon as possible, the Government hopes to remove this tax entirely. He stated also that each 1 per cent, of mortgage interest raises the cost of producing wheat by 3d. per bushel.
– How is that worked out?
– It has been calculated by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) who is regarded as an authority on the subject, and apparently the Prime Minister has accepted his estimate. I assume that the calculation is made by dividing the number of bushels produced on a holding into the interest cost of the mortgage.
– Then interest at 7 per cent, would represent ls. 9d. per bushel, which is more than the farmers obtained for their wheat in the year before last.
– Yes, and obviously such an interest rate cannot be paid with wheat at its present price. On a 6 per cent, mortgage, this tax of 2s. in the £1 represents a cost of 1.8d. per bushel; that is to say, 2s. in the pound tax, being one-tenth’ of the total income, equals .6 per cent.; therefore, if 1 per cent, represents 3d. per bushel, .6 per cent, equals 1.8d. So long as the Commonwealth allows this tax to remain on mortgages on land used for wheat-growing purposes, it is raising the cost of production by l.Sd. per bushel. While I appreciate the Government’s need to balance the budget, which, in the opinion of Ministers, prevents the complete removal of this taxation at the present time, I submit that a wholesale lowering of the interest burden on land could be immediately secured if the Government would remove the super tax from incomes obtained from mortgages on land used for agricultural and pastoral purposes, on condition that the rate of interest on such mortgages should be 5 per cent, or less. I do not think it would be difficult to discriminate in the taxation assessments” because the income tax return requires the taxpayer to state the forms of his investment and the rates of interest obtained therefrom. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this suggestion because, according to the figures mentioned by the Prime Minister this afternoon, the reduction of mortgage interest from 6 per cent, to 5 per cent, would cheapen the cost of producing wheat on the land mortgaged by 3d. per bushel. Such a reduction would be a real incentive to the lender to provide cheaper money. Whilst the raising of the exemption from £200 to £250 is an act of justice to the small property owner, it will have little effect on the burden of interest, whereas the course I have suggested would have immediate and appreciable effect. The continuance of a tax which amounts to nearly 2d. per bushel of wheat merely to provide revenue for the Treasury, reminds one of that familiar illustration of shortsighted policy, “ burning the house to roast a pig”. WI hope that the Government will follow up its present limited action on the lines of the suggestion that I have made..
I welcome the sales tax exemptions, particularly as they apply to foodstuffs, although the exemptions on poison carts and books also have merit.
I realize as was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, that the provisions relating to pension anomalies can best be dealt with in committee. It is proposed that where a home has been partly or wholly provided by the children of a pensioner, in the natural expectation that it will revert to them in due course, it shall remain in the possession of the family, or at least such part of its cost as has been contributed by them. The Prime Minister also pointed out that, by the adoption of a sliding scale in the payment of pensions, the abrupt drop that at present occurs in certain cases will be smoothed off. He quoted the case of a man owning £59 worth of property. The right honorable gentleman might just as well have mentioned £59 19s. lid. as the value. Such a pensioner would receive £45 10s. a year, the full pension. But a person who owned property to the value of £60, would be paid a pension of only 15s. a week, or £39 a year, from which £1 or one-tenth of the amount by which the value of the property exceeded £50, would bc deducted, reducing Ms yearly pension to £38, or £7 - 10s. less than the amountreceived by the person, owning property valued at £59 19s. lid. I ask the Prime Minister to examine the table that he quoted this afternoon, for I think that a mistake occurs in the first line. The right honorable gentleman pointed out that a pensioner who has no income and whoso property does not exceed £59 in value receives at present £45 10s. per annum. In the table quoted by the Prime Minister it is set out that if a pensioner owned a property valued at under £60 - and property valued at £59 would fall into that class - he would receive at present £39 per annum and an additional payment under .this bill of £6 10s., making a -total of £45 10s. I should be glad if the Minister in charge of the House would bring this matter under the notice of the Prime Minister so ‘that the table that has been incorporated in Hansard may be corrected.
There is to be incorporated in the act a provision covering what to-day is done by means of regulation. As that regulation appears to be open to challenge, the step proposed is a wise one. There is also an amendment in respect of the transfer of property to the Commonwealth which will enable persons who are debarred from a pension because of thu ownership of property which returns little or no income to receive a pension. I think that it wasthe honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) who advanced this proposal some months ago. It commended itself to me at the time. It is perfectly true that a person cannot live on an empty house for which he is unable to obtain a tenant, nor can he live on a bush paddock which brings in no rent. Yet the ownership of such a house or paddock might totally debar him from receiving a pension, or reduce the amount of pension for which he might otherwise be eligible.
– Why should the ownership of vacant property lower a man’s pension ?
– It is difficult to cover all cases. As a lawyer of experience, the honorable member must realize that the shoe may pinch in individual cases although, generally, it may be reasonably comfortable. As I understand the present proposal, the pensioner will have the option of retaining his property, or of transferring it to the Government, and in that way becoming entitled to the pension for which the property disentitled him.
I come now to the proposals of the Government to assist primary producers, and, especially, wheat-growers. It will be remembered that when the Government first voiced these proposals, it was intended to provide an amount of £2,250,000 for the purpose, £1,250,000 of which was to be used to assist necessitous wheat-growers, and £1,000,000, or almost half of the total sum, was to be used to provide a bounty on superphosphates. Members of the party to which I belong, other honorable members, and producers generally, expressed dissatisfaction with that proposal. That dissatisfaction really centred about two main points, the first being that >the critics did not agree with the Government’s limit to “ very necessitous cases.” It was felt that that put the whole transaction on a purely dole basis ; also that, in many cases, assistance would be given to the least efficient producer, while it might be denied to a man more deserving who, because he was somewhat more efficient, was not in such dire financial straits. It has always been incomprehensible to some of us why a bounty on wheat should be regarded as a sort of compassionate allowance, while bounties on such commodities as steel and sulphur, and others obtained indirectly, per medium of the duties with which secondary industries are assisted, should be regarded as an economic necessity which persons could make full use of without any loss of respect. That line of demarcation has puzzled many. The second reason for dissatisfaction 1Vas the allocation of nearly half of the proposed amount as a fertilizer subsidy. Many of us agreed that such a subsidy was an excellent thing, but felt that it would work out unevenly with respect to the benefits provided for producers in the different States. As is well known, producers in some States are heavy users of fertilizers, while those in other States, for some reason, use fertilizers sparingly; indeed, a considerable difference of opinion exists as to whether their use is of any. worth in certain areas. Members of my party, and honorable members supporting the Government accompanied a large deputation which asked the Government to divide that £2,250,000 differently; to make £2,000,000 available to the wheatgrowers themselves in some ‘ way which would afford them direct cash assistance, and provide the remaining £250,000 for the purchase of fertilizers to assist producers other than those growing wheat. While we have been unable to work up a great deal of enthusiasm over the Government’s proposals to assist the wheatgrowers, we have gained at least some little measure of satisfaction from the Government modifying its original proposals by dividing the £2,250,000 in the way we suggested. Clause 27 specifies the methods which are to be adopted in expending the money per medium of the States. The first portion certainly gets away from the dole idea, but paragraph h is more contentious. I should like to ask the Prime Minister exactly what paragraph a means, and presume that we shall receive some explanation in com- mittee. Together with the introductory words, it reads -
Any money paid to a State under this part shall be applied by the State for the benefit and assistance of wheat-growers by -
reducing the cost of production of wheat ;
I assume that the Government would not regard it as unwise if a State were to use some of the money to reduce the amount which producers paid on freight. That would bo practically a cash subsidy, but strictly speaking it could hardly be called a reduction in production costs. If the Government intends to leave the matter to the discretion of the State Governments, the words “and marketing” should be added to paragraph a. Members of my party are generally of the opinion that the bill would be improved if the States were given an absolutely free hand in this respect. In view of the wide range of conditions that we have in this great continent of ours, the method which might be best in one State might be the worst in another. For example, in one State fertilizers might be used generously on every acre on which wheat was grown. In other States, exactly the opposite condition might obtain. That seems to suggest that the best we can do is to hand this money to the States to provide assistance for the wheat-growers, without imposing any conditions at all. Had this subject been considered a month ago, before any of the new season’s wheat had changed hands, I would have said that the most effective results from the expenditure of a limited sum of money would have been obtained by using it for the payment of an export bounty. This would have been paid on three-quarters of our production ; but it would have enhanced to a similar extent the value of the other quarter. The payment of a bounty on export wheat is, in my opinion, better than any other way of assisting the farmers. It is, however, too late now to take action of that kind, for the value of the wheat which has already changed hands could not be enhanced to the benefit of the producer of it. There is great need for an enhancement of the value of our wheat, the price’ of which at present is only about 2s. 4d. per bushel at rail sidings, or 9d. less than last year’s price.
While I am not personally interested in wheat production, and only a comparatively small number of my constituents are engaged in the industry, I feel that as Australians we should be ashamed to take wheat for our own use at the price prevailing to-day. Something should be done to ensure that a fair price is paid for wheat consumed in Australia. The limited constitutional power of this Parliament would make it impossible for it to take any effective action of this nature, but the State Parliaments have sufficient power to act. We boast in this country of our standard of living, but so far we have refrained from taking steps to ensure that those who produce such a necessary commodity as wheat shall get a fair price for the wheat consumed within Australia. I hope that the State Governments will take steps to supplement the assistance which the Commonwealth Government is now providing for the wheatgrowers, either by acquiring wheat or imposing a sales tax on flour.
– Two States are already doing something of this kind.
– I understand that the Victorian Government is giving consideration to the introduction of a bill to provide for the acquiring of wheat. The State Governments can in this way supplement the assistance which the Commonwealth Government is providing under this bill; but this Parliament is precluded from doingso by the limitation of its constitutional powers.
I am pleased that the Government is proceeding on a modified basis with the proposal to pay a bounty on fertilizers. I do not know where the Prime Minister obtained the statistics which he used to justify the reduction of the bounty from 20s. to 15s. a ton. I must admit that I have not been able to obtain any statistical information of this kind; but I should be amazed if it could be shown by definite figures that more than 250,000 tons of fertilizers are used annually for purposes other than wheat-growing. If only 250,000 tons are so used, the amount of money provided for the purpose of the bounty would be sufficient to allow a payment of £1 a ton. Having no definite figures to place before the Government,
I cannot very well adversely criticize the proposal to reduce the bounty to 15s. a ton; but I should be most interested to learn where the Prime Minister obtained the information which justified him in making this reduction. I should be astonished if more than 250,000 tons of fertilizers per annum is used for purposes other than wheat-growing.
– The figures supplied to the Government indicate that 330,000 tons was actually consumed in this way in 1930-31. Those are the latest returns we have been able to obtain.
-I am glad that so much fertilizer is being used, particularly in districts with heavy rainfalls, for it undoubtedly adds to the productivity of the land. In Gippsland, top-dressing is now being carried out to a great extent by dairymen, who are thus substantially increasing the carrying capacity of comparatively small areas. Honorable members may be interested to learn that in that province - I do not know about others - the butter factories are assisting dairy farmers by providing them with fertilizers on terms. They are charging nothing for the first three months, but are recouping themselves for the expenditure by deducting from the cream cheques one-sixth of the cost a month for the next six months. The result is that the dairy farmers are obtaining some real benefit from the fertilizer before it is wholly paid for. I hope that the granting of this bounty of 15s. per ton on fertilizers will encourage the use of superphosphates.
I shallsupport the motion for the second reading of the bill, but I hope that at the committee stage the Government will agree to amendments which will make the measure more acceptable to wheatgrowers.
.- I regret that the Government has not proposed the repeal of all the objectionable provisions of the Financial Emergency Act which affect the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. When the Government saw that its revenue was so buoyant, it should have been glad to grant relief to this most unfortunate section of our community, which is being taxed more heavily than any other section of it. Out of the unexpected surplus of £3,500,000 the Government has seen fit to make substantial gifts to persona who could well afford to do without them. The remission of taxation to the wealthy landholders of Sydney, Melbourne and other capital cities of the Commonwealth cannot be justified under existing circumstances. We have been told that this measure is intended to grant relief to farmers, but I do not think that the Government is so concerned about the farmers as about the rich city land-owners whose interests are wrapped up with those of banking and shipping companies, and insurance and other financial institutions. This bill will afford some slight relief to the most afflicted section of the community, but it is not anything like so comprehensive as we expected it to be. We strongly object to the lifting of taxation from people well able to bear it while our old-age and invalid pensioners arc still obliged to suffer the sacrifices imposed upon them earlier this year.
Relief from sales taxation is being granted to only a limited section of our primary producers. Those engaged in agricultural industries have received a certain amount of consideration from this Government, and I do not begrudge them their good fortune in this respect; but the coal-mining industry, which has been languishing for a number of years and is sadly in need of rehabilitation should also have been granted relief. Sales taxation should have been lifted from mining equipment. At my request the Government has exempted mining explosives from sales taxation, but such mining necessities as oils, brattice cloth and rails should have been included in the list of exemptions. I have received requests from both miners and mine-owners to urge the Government to grant exemption in these directions. Seeing that the Government has been able, out of the increased revenue it has received, to grant relief to wealthy taxpayers, it should also have granted relief to other and more deserving sections of the community. People who are well able to pay income and land taxation are being relieved of the obligation to do so, while old-age and invalid pensioners who rely on the benefits they receive from our social service legislation for their bare existence are still allowed to suffer undue hardships.
It is remarkable that some of the amendments contained in this bill should have followed an agitation by real estate agents. After threats had been made, first in Tasmania, that action would be taken in the High Court in a certain direction, the Attorney-General was present at a conference of land agents. That was about three weeks ago.
– The honorable member is mistaken. I have not seen any land agents, nor have I been seen by any.
– My statement was made on the authority of certain press reports. After the interview to which I have referred, certain regulations, which included what is known as “Form 44” were issued.
– Those regulations were issued before anybody saw me.
– But they were not issued before the agitation that I have mentioned. By filling in Form 44, a person can obtain information from the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions respecting the property of pensioners. In other words they can pry into the private affairs of invalid and old-age pensioners. But if any one tried to pry into the affairs of our wealthy taxpayers he would be quickly told to mind his own business. It is deplorable that Form 44 was ever issued. Further benefits are to be provided for land and estate agents under clause 20, which reads -
Section 52d of the Principal Act is amended by inserting at the end thereof the following sub-section: -
Sub-section (4) and (5) of this section shall not apply in any case in which the Commissioner - “ (a) is satisfied that a person who accepted, in contravention of subsection (4) of this section, a mortgage or transfer, did so through inadvertence on the part of the person who accepted the mortgage or transfer, or error on thepart of the Commissioner or a Deputy Commissioner, and
) subsequently gives his consent.”
Clause 22 enables the Commissioner upon application made by a pensioner or by a person who has an interest in the property of the pensioner to exempt that property from any charge imposed on it, by virtue of the operation of a preceding provision. It reads -
After section 52e of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted : - “ 52ea. - (1.) The Commissioner may, upon application made by a pensioner or by a person who has an interest in the property of a pensioner or who has an interest in the estate of any deceased pensioner, exempt, either wholly or in part, any property or estate from the charge imposed by the last preceding section and may postpone, either wholly or in part, the charge until any other specified claim against the property or estate is satisfied, or until the death of the person having that interest. (2.) The powers of the Commissioner under the last preceding sub-section shall be exercised only in cases where the Commissioner is satisfied that the exercise of those powers is justified on the ground of hardship to any person, or by reason of any serious change in the financial position of the pensioner. (3.) Where the Commissioner in pursuance of this section exempts any property or estate, either wholly or in part, from any charge imposed on that property or estate by virtue of thelast preceding section, or postpones the charge, either wholly or in part, until any other specified claim against the property or estate is satisfied, the property or estate shall accordingly be so exempt, or the charge so postponed.
That provision, I admit, does afford some protection . to the son or daughter of a pensioner who has an interest in the property of the pensioner, but it also affords protection to land and estate agents. When the Invalid and Old- Age Pensions Act was recently amended, we, on this side of the chamber, strongly urged that more consideration should be given to the sons or daughters of pensioners who had assisted their parents toprovidehomesfor themselves. Although the Government then paid no heed to our agitation, it is now to extend that consideration, but only as a result of agitation on the part of real estate agents. Of course the Government could not very well benefit that section of the community without benefiting the pensioners and their relatives. The regulation which was issued shortly after the agitation by land and estate agents is now covered by proposed new section 52eb, which provides that an estate agent may make application to the Commissioner for information asto whether the owner of aproperty is a pensioner, and, if so, whether the amount of pension paid would be a charge on the estate of the pensioner. The recent amendment of the act inflicted considerable hardship upon pensioners generally. It provided that the children of pensioners had to accept the responsibility of maintaining their parents. Otherwise they would have to appear in court, to show cause why theyshould not accept that responsibility. Yet the Government of New South Wales is doing exactly the opposite, by requiring a pensioner to maintain his children by assessing the pension as income against a family in receipt of food relief. If such income amounts to £2 15s. a fortnight no food relief is given. Surely the Governments of Australia are getting into a peculiar position in their efforts to balance their budgets. Recently statements have been issued to the press by responsibleofficers in respect of the number of pensions that have been voluntarily relinquished. The Daily Telegraph published an article in which reference was made to hundreds of dishonest pensioners, and to the fact that 1,988 persons had voluntarily relinquished pensions costing the Commonwealth £80,000 a year. That reference is an insult to our pensioners, because I have yetto learn that any of them has been dishonest. Many of them have relinquished their pensions for legitimate reasons. For instance, a woman built a home from the pension that she received because of the death of her son at the Avar. For sentimental reasons she is not prepared to allow her home to be taken over by the Government, and she prefers to relinquish her pension. Many other pensioners have adopted a similar attitude. They prefer to live on the dole, or on the charity of some one else, than to mortgage their property to the Government for a pension which the Government would recover from the sale of the property after their death. Proposed new subsection 52ga provides for the transfer of the property of any pensioner to the Government.Does that mean that if a pensioner has a piece of land which is non-revenue producing, and is encumbered with rates to the extent of its value, a transfer of it may be made to the Government. If that can be done, it will be a good thing for the pensioner, provided that he is desirous of transferring his land to the Government. Rut it will not he fair if the Government proposes to take from pensioners land which they are unwilling to transfer. That would be placing a further penalty on the thrifty pensioner.
– That is not intended under this legislation.
– Paragraph 2 of that provision roads -
The transfer under this section by a pensioner or claimant to the Commonwealth of any property or interest shall not affect the right of the pensioner or claimant to receive or be granted a pension under this act and the value of any such property or interest shall not bc taken into account in determining the amount of the pension.
That provision is, of course, only just. But there is a further provision under paragraph 1 to the effect, that the Government will not take over property which has encumbrances thereon. It is provided that the Government may accept a transfer from any pensioner or claimant of any property which is not subject to any encumbrance, or of any interest of the pensioner or claimant under a will. I take it that arrears of rates would be considered an encumbrance. The Government has not hesitated to impose additional hardships upon our old and thrifty people who have invested a lifetime’s savings in land and homes. It is now proposing to take from the. pensioners property which they have purchased out of the savings of many years.
– Only if the pensioners want the property transferred to the Government.
– That is not specifically stated in the bill. The provision still exists empowering the Government to take over the property on the death of the pensioner.
Although past governments have exhorted the people to be thrifty, this Government proposes to penalize our old and thrifty people. Take the position of say, two men, who began work together. One saved money, married and reared a family, and ultimately purchased a house apart from that in which he lives. The other remained unmarried and enjoyed life. The first on reaching 65 years of age applies for a pension and in assessing the pension the value of his property is taken into account and for every £10 over £50 in respect of the value of his property a reduction of £1 per annum is made in his pension. The second man on reaching 65 years of age applies for and obtains a full pension. In that way we are penalizing our thrifty people. The value of land which is not revenue producing should not be assessed against a pension. Many pensioners have a house, other than that in which they live, for which they receive no rental at all. The tenants are unemployed, or the house may be untenanted, and yet the pensioners have to meet the rates upon the property out of the amount of their pension. The whole system of administering pensions is grossly unfair. The pension is to be a charge against the property of a pensioner who is deceased. We are giving little encouragement to working people to build homes of their own. Many of the working people in mining towns live in shacks and wretched hovels not really fit for human habitation. When they get up in years, some of them try, with the help of their children, to build decent homes, but the provisions of this act will discourage them from doing anything of the kind. They will say to themselves, not without reason, that in another ten years or so they will be entitled to a pension, so that they may as well spend on a trip what money they have saved. The Government proposes to rob the dead of the property they have accumulated, yet during the war men were shot for robbing the dead. No provision is made to meet the case of married children who build homes on land belonging to their parents. When the previous amending bill was before the House, I drew attention to cases in which married sons had built homes on land which still remained in the father’s name, having never been subdivided. At the present time, the fathers in those cases are receiving a reduced pension because of the improvements effected by the sons. When a pensioner dies, I suppose the Government will want to take not only the pensioner’s property, but the son’s also.
That part of the bill which provides for a sliding scale of property values affords no relief to pensioners who own property to the value of £120 or over. The scale will operate as follows: -
What property on which a man might reasonably be expected to live is worth less than £120. I know a man living at KurriKurri who had £1,050 in the bank. He drew out the money and bought land with it, which he had cut up into 29 blocks. He had to comply with the subdivision requirements of the Kearsley Shire to make roads and lanes, and he built a bridge as well. He held a sale, but was successful in selling only two blocks, receiving for them £100. He built a home for himself on the land, and is now called upon by the local authorities to pay rates, electric light charges, insurance, &c, to the extent of £29 a year. Under the recent amendment of the Pensions Act, his pension, has been reduced to 3s. a week, although he does not obtain any revenue from his property, while it costs him in rates £29 a year. That, surely, is not fair to a man who has honestly tried to make provision for his old age. I worked beside that man in the mines for years, and I know that he denied himself many pleasures in order to save his money. Now he is worse off than a man who spent every penny he earned, never bothering to make provision for himself or anybody else. The man who spent all his money can draw a full pension, while the unfortunate man who saved his money and invested it, and who was in every way an admirable citizen, has had his pension reduced to 3s. a week. Such legislation does not encourage men to be thrifty.
Under the last amendment of the Pensions Act, the pensioners were required to provide £1,100,000 towards meeting an expected deficit of £1,479,000. Notwithstanding this, the Government now proposes to make concessions to wealthy land-owners, but little or no relief is to be given to the pensioners. If it were not for the money taken from the pensioners the Government would not be able to make these remissions to the wealthy land and property owners. When the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) was speaking on the last amending bill which was before this House, he made a touching appeal on behalf of the blind. He said that he spoke as one having experience of the hardships suffered by those afflicted persons. He had, he’ said, felt the touch of human kindness from his fellow members of this House, and cared not whether the band that helped him belonged to a political friend or a political enemy. We all sympathize with the blind; but there are those who suffer from other afflictions besides blindness. There are those who have lost arms or legs, and others who lie in hospital with broken backs, and will never be able to walk again. No doubt they, too, have felt the touch of human kindness, but it has not been from this Government, which has reduced their miserly pension of 5s. a week to 3s. 9d. The Government is prepared to go even to the length of taking from the sick the barest necessaries, and has incurred the displeasure of all decent people. I am certain that if it went to the country on this issue it would be relegated to the limbo of forgotten things, and the party opposite would come back to this side of the House with greatly depleted numbers.
A recent amendment of the Repatriation Act provided for the reduction of the pensions of soldiers’ dependants if the total income received amounted to 30s. a week. In many cases the amendment to the Pensions Act has reduced the pensions of the aged to 15s. a week, while in certain cases, as I have pointed out, the pension has been reduced to even 3s. a week. I cannot understand why 30s.should be regarded as a minimum in cases coming under the Repatriation Act, while pensions from 3s. to 15s. a week are deemed sufficient under the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act.
I claim that greater consideration should be given by the Government to the needs of destitute persons. No provision has been made for the relief of the unemployed, and it is apparently not proposed to restore the maternity allowance, the payment, of which was restricted in certain cases by recent legislation. The maternity allowance was first made payable in 1912, and at that time was regarded, not as a charity, but as a right which all mothers might claim, partly as a contribution towards the expenses of their confinement, but more particularly to enable them to obtain proper medical attention before the birth of their children. Does the Government propose to wait until the percentage of infant mortality increases before it takes any step to restore the maternity allowance? The act now provides that the allowance will not be paid to families, the income of which exceeds £208 per year. That provision ought to be amended, seeing that the Government is in a position to grant financial relief to many of those who are well able to make a greater contribution towards the cost of government. In regard to the provisions compelling children to support their parents, not many Australians who are able to contribute to the maintenance of their parents would need to be compelled to do so ; but the present law may compel even those who are on the basic wage and have barely enough to support their wives and children, to share the little they have rather than risk prosecution and having to appear in court to plead their poverty, and show cause why they should not contribute to the pensions of their aged parents. Moreover, this will take from the pensioner the small measure of independence he has hitherto enjoyed. “While he was in receipt of a pension, he could walk out of the home of his daughter or son if, rightly or wrongly, he believed that he was being slighted, or was an unwelcome guest. Old people become hypersensitive, and sometimes imagine slights or discourtesies; but, in future, those who are uncomfortable in the homes of their children will have no brighter outlook than that indicated in the familiar refrain, “ Oh, ain’t it grand to be bloom in’ well dead.” Certainly this new provision will not promote happiness in the home. I have sufficient pride in the Australian people to believe that no man or woman would allow a parent to exist on charity if it were avoidable. The insistence that children shall maintain their parents, or prove their financial incapacity to do so, is unwarranted. In view of the improvement in the revenue, the Government, instead of proposing a small measure of relief to the pensioners, should have restored pensions and the conditions relating to them to the basis which existed prior to the passing of the Financial Emergency Act.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has stated that the proposals contained in the bill are designed to reduce the interest bill, the cost of living, and taxation, with a view to permitting a lower cost of production. The Government is to be commended for this endeavour, and it would be even more deserving of appreciation if its policy in other respects had been directed to the same end. A close examination of the Government’s record makes one doubtful of the sincerity of its professions. I hope, however, that the time i3 not far distant when the Commonwealth will be able to abandon the field of land taxation. The States have to build railways, roads, harbours, and to provide other conveniences necessary to the development of the land, and they alone should have the power to tax it. Our aim should be so to reduce the cost of federal administration that the Commonwealth may be able to retire from land taxation in favour of the States Although the Commonwealth has taken large amounts from the land-holders, almost every federal enactment since 1920 has been calculated to destroy the” primary industries upon which the country depends.
I would prefer the removal of the primage and surtax rather than the reduction of the sales tax. The latter is paid by all the people, whereas primage and the surtax are a burden principally upon one section. I appreciate the Government’s proposals -to remove anomalies from the law governing invalid and oldage pensions, but I trust that it will not be so stupid as to agree to the proposal that the Commonwealth should take over all properties belonging to persons who desire to draw pensions. If that proposal were adopted, the Commonwealth would be burdened with considerable areas of unsaleable land, which could not be taxed by the local authority, and through neglect might become an eyesore. If a pensioner desires to get rid of his property in order to qualify for a pension, it should be offered at auction, and if no reasonable offer were forthcoming, should be valued, and the pension assessed accordingly. I deprecate the suggestion that the Commonwealth should become the owner of all sorts of unsuitable properties throughout the Commonwealth.
– It would become a very big landlord in twenty years.
– Yes, and probably a very bad one. I have no desire to see any further growth in government departments; they are already too big. Our population is only 6,000,000 people, and yet £200,000,000 a year is being taken from them in taxation and payment for services. Industry cannot bear this burden. Prosperity can be restored only by the production of more wealth, and that will be impossible until costs have been reduced. At the present time, the Government is taking from the people more than half the national income.
The Government has little excuse for its delay in presenting to Parliament its proposals for assisting the wheat-farmers. The condition of the wheat-growers has been well known for a considerable time, and the Government, being fully aware of the low prices now obtaining, and the trend of the market, should have decided its policy earlier. Wheat is already being harvested, and probably some of it has been sold. The justification for the industry’s appeal for assistance is the exceptionally low price of wheat coupled with the high cost of production in Australia, and were it not for those unduly high costs I would not be justified in my demands on their behalf. This country is solely dependent upon its export trade. That is the balance wheel of nearly every country’s prosperity, and Australia’s three staple exports are wheat, wool, and metals. Statistics show that the country people have responded magnificently during the last two years to the appeal to them to increase production and provide a surplus for export. The export of butter, for instance, has increased by over 100 per cent. But the pampered secondary industries, including iron and steel and bootmaking, which have so many friends in this Parliament, have done nothing to help Australia out of its difficulties. Not one of them can compete on the markets of the world. Why then should the wheatgrower be asked to compete against every other country? By government policy, his costs of production have been made higher in Australia than in any other country, and yet he must accept whatever price is offered in the markets of the world. The Government could have helped him by imposing a sales tax on flour; the price of wheat on the local market could have been increased, and a bounty paid on wheat exported. Taxation is imposed on every piece of machinery . and all the materials the farmer requires to carry on his industry and build up a home in the bush. But in order to preserve employment in the cities his request for a sales tax on flour was refused because it might increase the cost of living. That excuse was not valid. In New Zealand, where the fixed price of wheat is 6s. a bushel, bread is cheaper than in Australia. In France, the duty on wheat is 9s. a bushel, but do the French people pay as much for bread as we do? Italy also imposes a heavy duty on wheat, and yet has a cheap loaf. Surely, having regard to the low price of wheat, the Government should do something to break up the combines which fix the prices of flour and bread, and. to ensure that the producers of wheat get a fair deal without increasing the present price of the loaf. Western Australia has an immense area of land suitable for wheat cultivation, and the climate being favorable, could, with due consideration, produce more wheat than all the other States combined. Much of the land is relatively poor and requires fertilizing, but Professor Perkins has stated that if the cost of production could be reduced to the 1914 level, Australian wheat could compete successfully against that of any other country, including Russia. But the Government has refused effective aid to wheat-growers lest the price of bread might be increased. We cannot afford to allow the primary industries to perish. I received to-day, from the president of the Primary Producers Association of Western Australia, the following telegram: -
In view of serious position wheat industry brought about by low prices coupled with unwillingness of Government to afford adequate relief wheat executive agreed to recommend all growers reduce areas 20 per cent.
There is the first suggestion. Another wire indicates that the people are so alarmed that they have made up their minds to picket the railway stations to prevent wheat from being delivered. I intend to reply saying that action of that sort cannot injure those who are exploiting them, but must injure themselves and those who are standing behind them in their adversity. I also received the following telegram from the Minister for Lands : -
Determination Commonwealth Government make available two and quarter millions assistance wheat-growers representing threepence bushel marketed wheat being received very unfavorably this State. Only one outcome very great falling off in production. No industry except gold-mining paying its way and unless some encouragement given our main industry nothing ahead of State but default. Position extremely serious wish you take matter up with Prime Minister, Latham, Leader Country party.
I have hundreds of other telegrams from chambers of commerce and different persons in Western Australia, whichI shall not quote. The injustice that is being inflicted on the wheat-farmers is so apparent that the Government should remedy the position. Why should the protection be all on the one side, building up the glorious citiesof which we are all proud, and neglecting the remote centres? I know that it was impossible to help the wool industry in the way I have in mind, but it can be done with wheat. Yet, this and the previous Administration have declined to do anything because they thought it would be unpopular. It is marvellous how honorable members change their opinions according as they are in opposition or supporting a government. In 1931, when the Wheat Marketing Bill was before the Senate, Senator Massy Greene, who is now in the Ministry, and one of those who dictate the policy of this Government, moved the following amendment: -
The Senate is of opinion -
That as the bill provides, with the ostensible intention of helping wheatfarmers,
for wheat pools;
for local prices for wheat for local consumption it would necessarily raise the price of wheat for local consumption.
That as this result can be obtained more expeditiously, and with greater certainty by a tax on wheat and flour used for local consumption, thus providing a more certain means for assisting the wheat-farmers of Australia, the Senate requests that the bill be temporarily withdrawn with a view to its re-introduction in a form giving effect to the above proposal.
– Who voted for the amendment ?
– The following honorable senators : -
Another part of the report indicates that Senator Sir George Pearce said that relief should be provided either by a sales tax or a loan. I do not think that it would be wise to raise a loan for the purpose, when finance could so readily be provided in the manner suggested by Senator Greene. Those gentlemen recognized that assistance could have been provided then without imposing any great hardship on the people. The Leader of the Nationalist party at that time and the present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) did not believe in such measures. The Attorney-General still says that assistance should be given only to necessitous farmers. This is what the honorable gentleman said then -
The position of the farmers is acute, but no permanent relief can be afforded by this scheme, so long as wo depend on world’s prices;
We are dependent on world prices to-day. The honorable gentleman continued - and it appears that we shall alwaysbe dependent upon world prices. For relief from our difficulties we have to look for a reduction of production costs. I mentioned earlier this afternoon that there will have to be a drastic reconstruction of our whole economic system unless there is an immediate rise in world’s prices, and that is unlikely.
There has not been a rise in world prices. Nor has he made an effort to alter the economic conditions which prevail in Australia. We have the Arbitration Act and all sorts of other economic fooleries, combined with a prohibitive tariff, yet have made no serious endeavour to adjust matters. The honorable gentleman continued -
That form of relief is needed more than anything else, even more than an increase in the local price for the coming season. The wheat, wool, and mineral industries are too big to be permanently assisted . by schemes of this nature.
So far from there having been any reconstruction of our economic system, as he contended, we have had an extension of economic interference, which has made primary production absolutely unprofitable.
As Professor Perkins said, “ Give them a chance and they can compete on the world’s market “. I remember the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), when he was Prime Minister, appealing to wheat-farmers to “ Grow more wheat “ to help us to adjust our adverse trade balance and strengthen the country’s finances. The wheat-farmers responded magnificently. We all know how they were left in the lurch. To-day, they are providing the sinews of war to carry on our secondary industries. I have here the monthly summary of the National Bank of Australia, which contains an extensive list of the items which we import to Australia. An analysis of goods arriving during the past three months indicates that approximately 45 p.er cent, are considered as “ consumption “ goods, while 55 per cent, are “ production” goods, that is raw material of a substantial amount for manufacture, for apparel, machinery, and so forth. Our manufacturers import nearly all the articles they require, practically duty free, and the primary producers provide the credit with which their purchase is financed. The wheat-grower has to pay for that privilege,, for his necessaries cost him four times more than they should. In return, he has to market his goods in competition with the world. There is not the slightest doubt that next year there will be an immense reduction in the area placed under wheat. I know that a great number of people in Western Australia have not only been declared bankrupt, but have had to leave home3, occupied by them for ten or fifteen years, and regarded as a stand-by for their families. The conditions which favour the east, and are so detrimental to the west, make me indignant, particularly when the Government leaves those pioneers in the lurch, and says, in effect, “ We are going to have good conditions in the east, but, so far as you are concerned, you can rot “. At a time when the price of wheat is so alarmingly low, here are the prices of certain other commodities as given in the Argus of the 19th instant -
Overseas steel prices supplied by A. G. Kidston and Parker Limited, London and Glasgow, September price list.
– Australian wire netting is of better quality.
– I have seen Australian wire, only four years on a fence, which I could tear to pieces with my hands. Here is a quotation of British prices by the Broken Hill Proprietary on the 20th instant - £ s. d.
Wire netting 42 x li x 17 b quality, c.i.f. . . . . 38 13 3
I have a quotation from London for netting of similar size at £33 a ton c.i.f. Fremantle, netting of superior quality at a much lower cost.
The Government may lead this House, but it is Parliament that decides the policy of the country. When we come to clause 25 I intend to ask that it be amended to provide that this £2,000,000 shall be used as a bounty on the production of wheat for export.
– Will the honorable member stand up to that?
– Yes. I will move an amendment if necessary. I do not care what happens to the Government or to anything else if the people of my State are to be discouraged in this way. I only wish that I could use suitably expressive language to describe those honorable members who see nothing immoral, and nothing in the nature of robbery, in placing all sorts of duties on the articles required by one section of the community and giving that section nothing as a quid pro quo.
In encouraging the use of superphosphates, the Government is proceeding along sound lines. Since the duty was first put on sulphur, until the present day, I have endeavoured to get the Government to reduce the cost of fertilizers in Australia. I believe that we could increase by threefold, the settlement in certain areas, if we could make fertilizers available at a price that the people could afford to pay. I have seen marvellous results in South- Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia from the use of fertilizers. The carrying capacity of the land in some areas has been increased from one to three sheep per acre by this means. The leader of the Opposition has told me on occasions when we have discussed this subject that he also has marvelled at the great increase in the carrying capacity of pastures through the adoption of scientific top-dressing methods. This being so, everything possible should be done to encourage the people to use fertilizers, I have endeavoured to induce the Government to allow pyrites to enter Australia free of duty. To do so would not only cause a small reduction in the price of sulphuric acid, but it would also bring hundreds of tons of shipping to Australia which does not come here now, and this would mean cheap freights for our wool and wheat. Although the tariff schedule provides that fertilizers shall be admitted to Australia duty free, sulphate of ammonia, which is merely a by-product of the Australian Gas Company and the Broken Hill Proprietary coke ovens has been classified as a chemical, and made subject to a duty of 25 per cent, which, with other charges, is equal to 33 per cent., in order that those two concerns might draw a little higher profit from this by-product than would otherwise be the case. The Government insists that nitrate fertilizers are subject to duty as chemicals. This is not a commonsense policy, for it means that the price of superphosphates is higher than it need be. We should make manures of every description available at the lowest possible price to those who require them. Not long ago, two gentlemen who visited certain dairying districts of New Zealand published a book in which they referred to the marvellously increased carrying capacity, through the use of fertilizers, of these areas which were thought to be almost arid. A good deal is being done by the British chemical people to advise our producers in the use of fertilizers, but the Government should do more than it is doing in this regard. If we can encourage the adoption of methods which will increase the carrying capacity of our land, we shall do something effective to bring prosperity back to our people.
.- The introduction of this legislation shows that My Lady Bountiful has been abroad, but, unfortunately, she has bestowed her gifts upon the wealthier classes of the community and neglected the poorest and most necessitous people. 1 strongly resent the omission from this bill of provisions which would grant relief to the most struggling section of our people. Certain provisions which are in the measure are of such an iniquitous character that they deserve the strongest condemnation. The remission of taxation to certain wealthy interests has been made possible only by the reduction of the benefits accorded to our poor people by the social service legislation passed by this Parliament. It is entirely wrong in principle to grant relief of this kind at the cost of people who are labouring under severe disabilities. For this reason I shall resist some of the provisions of this bill with the utmost hostility.
The proposal to reduce the rate of land taxation by one-third is entirely unfair, because it will grant relief almost exclusively to wealthy city land-owners. I wish to dispel the idea that it will benefit those engaged in primary production. It cannot be truthfully denied that the greater part of the benefit of £600,000 which, will be accorded to certain interests under this provision will be enjoyed by people who can well afford to pay land taxation. Two-thirds of the revenue from federal hind taxation comes from city landlords, and the other third comes principally from people who hold .such large areas of land in the country that they cannot possibly apply their holdings to the greatest advantage. Persons owning land, the unimproved value of which is £5,000, but which has an actual value of £10,000, are not required to pay any federal land tax whatever. If any of our country land-holders are in such an unfortunate position that they cannot afford to pay land taxation, special provisions are contained in section 66 of the Land Tax Act to grant them relief. But the Government is not now proposing to grant temporary relief to those who are suffering from disabilities in the conduct of various primary industries; it is conferring a benefit upon such people as the wealthy newspaper proprietors of Australia, the shareholders in the big emporiums, which are buying city frontages to an ever greater extent in our various cities, the1’ owners of chain stores throughout the country, and the shareholders in our banking and insurance institutions and wholesale warehouses. There is not the slightest justification for the granting of this reduction in land taxation to such people. When we realize that only two months ago the Government inflicted extreme hardships on our invalid and old-age pensioners, on the plea that the budgetary position was discouraging in every respect, it is extraordinary that it should now consider it desirable to grant remissions of taxation to the extent proposed. In these circumstances we are justified in assuming that there was either inexcusable carelessness in estimating the revenue, or a deliberate endeavour to create a false impression as to the financial position of the country. That- the Government should now seek to make rich Christmas gifts to the wealthy people of this community is deplorable beyond words. I have no desire unnecessarily to make comparisons between the wealthy and poor classes of our community, but I should fail in my duty to the people whom I represent, who have suffered and are still suffering, as severely as any class of people in Australia, if I did not utter the strongest possible protest against what the Government is now seeking to do. Two months ago we were led to believe that the financial outlook was so depressing that further economies of the most drastic and objectionable kind were necessary, and yet now we are told that the revenue is so buoyant that millions of pounds can be provided for the relief of certain sections of the community. The course which the Government is pursuing is not likely to benefit those engaged in primary production, but is certain to assist those who are holding unimproved land out of production, and are enjoying the unearned increment in the value of city land3. Such people should be prepared to pay for the services which the community is rendering to them.
The honora’ble member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) was, in my opinion, seriously in error when he said that land taxation should be imposed exclusively by State governments. The honorable gentleman did not seem to realize that the aggregation of land in large holdings is not confined to one or two States. Very large areas in every State are being held out of production. Surely this suggests that the Commonwealth Government is in a far better position than are the State governments to impose land taxation in an equitable manner!
The proposed remission of the supertax on property also deserves the strongest opposition at this moment. That legislation was introduced by the previous Government as an emergency measure in order to meet the financial needs of this country during a period of stress and until we have overcome our financial difficulties we are not justified in relieving the burdens of the wealthy section of the community, and at the same time adding to the burdens of the poorer section. Any remission of taxation should be equitable, spreading itself over every phase of taxation. This proposed remission of taxation is by no means equitable, because it will apply only to one section of the community. This Government is working upon entirely wrong lines. The BrucePage Government, in its time of prosperity, should have made provision for a time of stress, to enable future governments in a time of adversity to remit taxation. We. know that in our own homes we seek in days of plenty to save sufficient to tide us over days of scarcity. Because of the failure of the Bruce-Page Government to govern this country properly, tremendous sacrifices have had to be made by the community generally. But, in our desire to deal generously with our people, we must not impose additional burdens upon one section of the community merely to benefit another already favoured section.
I come now to that part of the bill relating to old-age and invalid pensions. The more this Government amends the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act the more difficult becomes the administration of the department. I repeat the declaration of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that when the Labour party is returned to power, one of its first acts will be to remove the unjust provisions of this legislation relating to the property of pensioners. The officers of the Pensions Department are encountering considerable difficulty in administering the recent’ amendment of the act. It is nothing to the credit of this Government and its supporters that that legislation was rushed through this House without any thought of the anomalies -with which it was honeycombed, and the injustices which it would inflict upon pensioners generally. We are likely to view with grave concern the necessity which will frequently arise for the amendment of this legislation in consequence of the anomalies that have crept into it, and the difficulties that will be experienced in administering it. Time will show how impossible are the conditions that the Government is imposing. That is being slowly realized by the supporters of the Government, who are being inundated with correspondence containing requests from pensioners for information and assistance. I sympathize with the officers of the Pensions Department in their task of administering this legislation. They are seeking, under trying and most difficult circumstances, to do their best for the pensioners, but they are greatly handicapped in their efforts by the existing legislation, which will not permit of justice being done.
I wish to refer to statements which have recently appeared in the press as to the extraordinary number of people who have relinquished their pensions. It has been stated that, since the 1st September, 1,988 persons have forfeited their pension rights. The impression that has been gained by the public generally, because of misleading press reports, is that pensioners have resorted to widespread fraudulent practices.
– The Baily Telegraph published a statement to that effect.
– That is a deliberate insult to honorable and reputable citizens, whose only desire is to do the right thing and to observe the laws of this country. I am glad to have my opinion confirmed by an official statement prepared by the department. I propose to read that statement in justice to those who have been prepared to forfeit their pensions. I asked the Prime Minister to make an investigation with a view to discovering; whether there wa3 any reason for supposing that the forfeiture of pensions could be attributed to widespread fraudulent practices by pensioners in the past. The Prime Minister’s reply was as follows : -
The information desired is not available. Pensioners who have voluntarily relinquished their pensions have not furnished the reasons for their action. The Government has no reason to suppose that any of the voluntary surrenders were made by persons who have been drawing pensions illegally.
Perhaps the press will be prepared to give that statement as wide publicity as it gave to the suggestions that widespread fraudulent practices were responsible for the surrender of pensions. Most of those who surrendered their pensions were moved to do so because they objected to the humiliating provisions of the amending legislation, and because they resented the action of the Government in ruthlessly laying its hands on the property and homes of pensioners. Surely we can admire the spirit of those pensioners who preferred their independence, without imputing unworthy motives for their action. Before the Government grants tax remissions to certain sections of the community, it should liberalize the pension provision, and remove the objectionable clauses in the last amending act. We should restore the old conditions govern- ing pension payments before we hand out rich gifts to the more wealthy sections of the community.
The concluding sections of the bill deal with relief to be given to wheatfarmers and other primary producers. During the last few days I have received many communications from South Australia containing objections to the manner in which the Commonwealth proposes to distribute relief to wheatfarmers. I agree that the Government should have the right to lay down conditions regarding the distribution of money which it provides, but consideration should be given to the representations of the wheat-farmers who, after all, are producing an essential commodity which, when exported overseas, helps materially to preserve for us a favorable trade balance. It has been stated by the Government that the money shall be devoted towards relieving those farmers who have fallen upon evil times, hut this is primarily a matter for State Governments. In South Australia provision has been made by the State Government for the relief of necessitous cases, There are, however, many farmers who, by the exercise of rigid economy, and through having denied themselves, are to-day solvent; yet they, though they are included among the most worthy sections of the primary producers, are to be denied any benefit under this scheme. It would be better if assistance were provided to farmers in producing a crop, and they were paid a bounty on what they produced. During the committee stage of the bill, I propose to vote against those provisions which extend special privileges to wealthy sections of the community which could well afford to contribute even more to the cost of government, so that justice might be done to those in need of assistance.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Prowse) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.20 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Invalid and Old-aoe Pensions. Mr. Blacklow asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Referring to section 52e of the Financial Emergency Act 1932, does this section give the
Commonwealth priority to a bona fide encumbrancer who advances money to and obtains a security from a borrower who is not a pensioner at the time of the advance, but who subsequently becomes a pensioner?
In such a case, is the holder of the security postponed to the claim of the Commonwealth for pension money paid subsequently to the advance ?
If the section gives such priority to the Commonwealth, will the Government, before Parliament adjourns, bring down an amendment to correct this anomaly?
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether a pensioner’s widow, who is under 55 years of ago and is not receiving any pension and is in necessitous circumstances, will be called upon to repay the pension granted to her late husband since 12th October last, before she can secure possession of the home left to her by her husband?
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the serious reflections which have been implied by the press concerning recent forfeiture of pensions, and the suggestion that persons have relinquished their claim in fear of inquiries to be instituted, will the Government, in justice to pensioners generally, as well as those persons who have recently discontinued accepting this social benefit, have a detailed report prepared indicating the actual reasons for the forfeiture of the pension since 12th October last?
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information asked for would be in the nature of estimates of the effect on costs of production in primary industries of hypothetical reductions in tariff, wages, freights, interest, &c. No sufficient investigations have been made into these questions to permit of satisfactory estimates being made. I have referred the matter, the importance of which I recognize, to the Commonwealth Statistician for a report as to the extent to which tentative estimates can usefully be formulated. Such a report could not be readily furnished, and I suggest to the honorable member that he should confer with the Commonwealth Statistician respecting the assumptions which he wishes to be made as to what are practicable reductions in the specified items of cost.
r asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Export of Eggs and Egg Pulp.
t. - On the Sth November, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) asked the following questions, without notice: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following replies : -
– On the 9th November, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following replies ? -
y. - On the 14th October, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
On the 20th October, I furnished the honorable member with replies lo questions 1 and 3, and stated, with respect
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 November 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321123_reps_13_137/>.