13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Statements made in Ballarat.
– I direct the atten tion ofthe Prime Minister to the following six statements that have been made in Ballarat bya person who is doing some organizing work among old-age pensioners: -
I wish to know whether these statements are accurate, or whether the unfortunate pensioners among whom this man is moving are not being deceived by misleading representations?
– The honorable member was good enough to intimate to me that he intended to ask this question.
The statements generally are misleading. I have prepared a reply to each of them which, by leave of the House, I will have put into Hansard without reading it. That reply is this -
Purchase of Tobacco Leaf
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs the following questions in connexion with the Tobacco Agreement: -
– The honorable member informed me that he intended to ask these questions, and I have obtained the fol lowing information for him : -
The different tobacco manufacturing companies undertook to purchase 7,200,000 lb. of Australian tobacco leaf this season at an average “price of 2s. 3d. per lb. They have not only fulfilled this undertaking, but the largest company has bought a 1,000,000 pounds in excess of its undertaking, and intends to buy a further 1,000,000 pounds weight. This means that over 9,000,000 lb. of tobacco leaf will be bought this season. The companies also undertook to restrict their importations of leaf for use in the manufactureof tobacco to 9,520,000 lb. during the year. This undertaking is being kept, and the importations up to 12th November, 1932, were 8,225,346 lb.
– I remind honorable members that questions without notice ought to be asked only respecting matters of urgency and public importance. If the questions are such that notice of the intention to ask them can be sent to a Minister, they should be put on the notice-paper.
– Has the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs yet conferred with the Australian tobacco manufacturers with the object of reaching an agreement regarding next year’s crop ? If so, is he able to tell me what happened at the conference?
– I conferred with the representatives of the tobacco manufacturers last week-end, and discussed with them certain proposals for the disposal of next year’s tobacco crop. I have not yet been able to place my report before Cabinet, and until that has been done, I cannot make a public statement, though I hope to be able to do so at an early date.
Appointment of Juniors
– Referring to my representations to the Prime Minister regarding the unfortunate cessation of the appointment of juniors to the Public Service, and his promise to obtain a report on the subject, I wish to know when the report is likely to be available?
– The honorable member, as an ex-Minister, will realize that, owing to the pressure of business and to the fact that Parliament is sitting on four days in the week, Ministers .have very little time to devote to matters outside the business of the House. I have not been able to deal with the subject mentioned by him, and can- hold out no hope that it will receive attention before the House adjourns for the Christmas vacation; but I shall deal with it as soon as possible.
– Does the Prime Minister realize that the difficulties associated with the entry into the Australian trade of the Matson Line of steamers were first brought under the notice of the Government on the 15th January last? Has the Prime Minister received any communication on the subject from the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) ? Will the right honorable gentleman communicate with the Resident Minister on the subject over the week-end, and obtain up-to-date information upon it? Will he afford the House an opportunity to discuss the subject before the adjournment for the Christmas vacation ?
– There will be no opportunity to discuss this subject before the -House rises. The difficulties associated with this problem’ are not easy to solve. The matter was discussed at Ottawa, by representatives of Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia, and it was arranged that representatives of these three parts of the Empire should meet again in London to give further consideration to it. Since the Ottawa Conference, an opportunity has not presented itself for the holding of such a meeting. While the House is sitting four days a week, and Ministers are busily occupied with the preparation of legislation, it is utterly impossible for the Government to get time to investigate a number of matters such as this which are awaiting attention. Ministers will be able to deal with such subjects only after Parliament adjourns.
– Seeing that Ministers are experiencing such great difficulty in dealing with their administrative work while Parliament is sitting four days a week, will the Prime Minister consider, when arranging the business to be submitted to Parliament early in the new year, making arrangements for the House to rise at intervals of a week or so, as was done when the Ottawa business was being prepared for submission to the House, so that, on the one hand. Ministers may be able to keep abreast with their administrative work, and, on the other hand, members representing distant constituencies may be able to return to their electorates for brief periods?
– I shall certainly ask Cabinet to consider the honorable gentleman’s question. Something of that kind will have to be done if Ministers are to deal systematically and thoroughly with many of the questions that require their attention.
– In view of the desire of the Government to make arrangements for operations to be resumed on the Newnes shale oil fields, will the Prime Minister also see whether something can be done to revive operations on the Baerami fields, seeing that analytical tests of the oil con- teat of the shale deposits there are quite equal to those obtained from Newnes, and the seam is much thicker?
– This matter is being handled by the Minister in charge of Development, Senator McLachlan, and I shall bring the honorable member’s question under his notice.
– As it is indicated in the press that the war debt settlement may be adjusted between creditor countries and the United. States of America in the currency of the creditor countries concerned, will the Resident Minister in London be asked to arrange, if possible, that if payments are resumed, this benefit may be passed on to Australia by our war debt interest being paid in Australian currency?
– The Government has receivedno official information on this subject. Its knowledge of what is proposed is confined to what has appeared in newspaper reports, and it has no way of ascertaining whether they are correct or incorrect. The Government is in communication with the Resident Minister in London on the whole question. In view of the attitude that Great Britain has adopted on other occasions, we may safely assume that any benefit that may be obtained through the arrangements made by Great Britain will be passed on to Australia.
– Because of the great number of applications that have been lodged by young fellows who wish to secure a cadetship in the New Guinea service, will the Minister representing the mandated territories make available information as to the number of vacancies that exist, the number of applications received, and the date when applications close ?
– There are six vacancies for cadets in the New Guinea service. So far, 1,500 applications have been received. Next week a special board, consisting of heads of departments, will begin the consideration of those applications. I expect that some little time will elapse before the successful applicants are selected.
– Will the Prime Minister advise what action the Government has taken, or proposes to take, in regard to the imposition of customs duties upon imported crude oil? It has been stated that many hundreds of pounds have been lost to the Commonwealth in this respect.
– I ask the honorable member to give notice of his question, so that it may be properly considered. This is one of those important matters to which I have referred, that need time for consideration.
– The delay is too long.
– No, it is not, in view of the important and considerable business that is engaging the attention of the Government. The matter will receive consideration as soon as possible.
– There are rumours abroad that representations have been made to have the application of the tariff to rice removed. I should like a pronouncement from the Prime Minister on the subject.
– The question isdue to the misunderstanding of a telephone request concerning the exemption of ice from sales tax.
– I understand that the Minister for Trade and Customs has received a recommendation from the Federal Viticultural Council that the bounty on wine be reduced to1s. and excise to 7s. 6d. a gallon. Will the Assistant Minister state what action has been taken ?
– Representations have been made along the lines suggested by the honorable member, and the matter is now receiving the consideration of the Government.
– As the Government has agreed to hold examinations in the various capital cities for the appointment of officers to assist in the taking of the census, will the Prime Minister advise whether consideration has been given to the granting of free railway passes to candidates living outside the metropolitan areas ?
– The Government has arranged that examinations shall be held in the capital cities, but the Government does not intend to pay the railway fares of the candidates, nor the fare to Canberra of those who pass the examinations.
– Has the Minister for the Interior been informed of the outbreak of a grass fire adjacent to Parliament House, and will he ascertain whether the local fire brigade is adequately equipped to cope with such fires?From what I have seen of the local fire equipment, I should say that it is inadequate and there is danger of a number of valuable trees in the plantations of the city being destroyed.
– My attention has been drawn to the outbreak. The fire brigade was promptly on the spot. I shall have inquiries made as to the adequacy of its fire-fighting equipment.
– Last week, when at Armidale a business man informed me that the representative of the Australian Glass Company had told him that his company would accept orders only on condition that its goods were purchased “with all faults.” That is an unheard of condition-
– The honorable member is not in order in expressing an opinion when asking a question.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs any knowledge of the methods employed by the company? If not, will he institute inquiries with a view to determining whether those methods are fair and reasonable?
– I am not aware that any such conditions are attached to the sale of goods by the company mentioned. I shall have inquiries made.
– I have received from the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this morning for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ the advisability of increasing the rates of pay of certain ranks in the Commonwealth forces “.
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
.- I am loath to delay the House at a time when it has before it much important public business and a recess is imminent; but this is the only occasion at my disposal for focussing attention on the matter about which many returned soldiers and honorable members generally are greatly concerned. My endeavour this morning will be to give certain information which it is difficult for honorable members to obtain through ordinary channels. I spoke on this subject on the 14th and 26th October last, and referred definitely to the differences which exist between the rates of pay of members of the forces proper and members of the clerical branches. Briefly, the point is that, whereas the wages and salaries of members of the community generally have risen since 1924, there has been no corresponding rise in the. pay of members of the Commonwealth forces. Notwithstanding this, they have been subjected to the same reductions as have been applied to other public servants under the Financial Emergency Act, and they are, therefore, in a disadvantageous position.
In the short time at my disposal I shall have to concentrate on one branch of the forces, the lower ratings in the Navy. When I spoke on the subject in October, and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) interjected, “ They are also ‘ found ‘ “. I have read in the press and in ministerial and other statements remarks concerning this and other alleged advantages which the naval ratings enjoy, such as marriage allowance, accommodation, dental and medical attention, rations, kit upkeep allowance, deferred pay, and so on. It is rather difficult for the man in the street to appreciate exactly the nature of those benefits, and I shall, therefore, endeavour to explain them.
When a man begins his training in the navy as a naval rating he receives 2s.1d. a day if under eighteen years of age, and 4s.1d. when he has reached that age.
– How many days a week is he paid for ?
– Seven. The trained seaman, or A.B. is paid5s. 8d. per day, which is £.1 19s. 8d. per week, or £103 8s. 4d. per annum. That is the actual cash which he receives, as it is termed in the forces, “ over the table “. Rations in the navy are valued by the department at1s. 4d. per day. While on service, ratings do not receive that amount in cash, the accounting officer of the ship having the duty of victualling the ship’s company. As his operations are on. an extensive scale, that officer is able to buy what he needs economically, and invariably there is a credit balance at the end of the financial year, which is returned to the Treasury. Under a recent arrangement made by this Government, a rating receives 2s. 3d. per day while on leave, so that, in all, his ration allowance amounts to £26 5s. 2d. per annum, or 10s. 2½d. per week, on an average.
Next I come to the kit upkeep allowance. On joining, an A.B. is provided with his first kit free. The kit is an extensive one consisting of the following : - 1 bag (kit), 1 bag (soap), 1 pair bathing trunks, 1 bed, 2 bed covers, 1 blanket, 1 belt (waist), 1 pair boots (heavy pattern), 1 box (cap), ] box (ditty), 1 brush (boot blacking), 1 brush (hard), 1 brush (polishing), 1 brush (clothes), 1 brush (hair). 1 brush (tooth), 2 caps (white duck), 1 set clews for hammock, 24 clothes stops, 3 collars (blue jean), ] comb, 2 pairs drawers, 2 hammocks, 2 handkerchiefs (black silk), 1 helmet,1 helmet case, 1 jersey, 2 jumpers (duck, uniform), 3 jumpers (duck, working), 3 jumpers (serge, without cuffs), 1 knife with spike. 2 knife lanyards, 1 lashing for hammock, 2 ribbons (hat), 2 pairs shorts (tropical), 2 singlets (tropical), 2 pairs socks or stockings, 2. towels, 4 pairs trousers (duck), 3 pairs trousers (serge), 3 vests (flannel).
Additionalfor Seamen Ratings. 1 blue overall jacket, 1 pair blue overall trousers.
Additional for Stoker Ratings. 1 pair fearnought trousers, 1 stokers’ manual.
A man is expected to maintain the whole of that kit throughout his service.For that he receives an allowance of 6½d. per day, or £9 18 8½d. per annum. Assuming that he joins at the age of eighteen, his normal period in the service is 22 years, during which time he receives no further grant for kit.It will be recognized that service conditions subject the kit to much hard wear and tear, also that the equipment includes many articles that are not required in civil life. Also, we require of these men a very high standard of cleanliness and neatness, and 6½d. a day hardly goes far enough for the replacing of worn-out parts of his kit during 22 years of service.
Another argument is that the A.B. has his accommodation provided, and that the value of this accommodation should be counted as additional to his pay. I do not know whether honorable members consider this accommodation to be of any great value. The A.B. has the privilege of swinging his hammock in the lower deck, and of sitting at what are called broadside messes, that is, tables and forms.
Another of the supposed advantages enjoyed by naval ratings is free medical and dental attention. The naval rating must be in perfect physical condition when he joins the Navy, and his life there is conducive to a continuance of good health. Surgeons and medical attendants are available on board the ships in case of accident on duty, just as the services of such persons are made available to their work people by many big firms in the cities. Even if doctors are not kept always in attendance by such firms, nurses are generally available at all times of the day; yet this service is not reckoned as an addition to the pay of their employees. Medical and dental services are provided in the Navy as part of the war-time organization of the fleet. Moreover, only the ratings themselves obtain this service. It is not extended to their wives and families, and any medical expenses incurred in the domestic circle have to be met by the ratings out of their pay.
Naval ratings receive a marriage allowance. In connexion with this, I desire to point out, in the first place, that it is very difficult to save enough to gel; married on out of £1 19s. 8d. a week. It costs from £100 to £150 to furnish a home in even a modest way. When a rating gets married, he receives ls. 8d. a day extra, amounting to lis. 8d. . a week, or £30 18s. 4d. a year. Naturally, he must make “this over to his wife, together with an allotment of at least half his active pay. As a matter of fact, most ratings allot all their pay, except 10s. a fortnight, to their wives and families.
A child allowance of 9d. a day for each child is made, which is an increase on the allowance of 6d. a day previously paid. Even with this allowance, ratings claim -that children are a very expensive luxury.
The subject of deferred pay is often mentioned. This amounts to ls. 5d. a day, which equals 9s. lid. a week, or £25 17s. Id. per annum. It is only fair to state that interest accrues on this deferred pay. The ordinary A.B., when joining the Navy at eighteen, must sign on for twelve years. He is 30 years of age at the expiration of that term, and ho may then re-enlist, for two further periods of five years each, which brings him to the age of 40, when he must retire. The A.B. at 40 is not a middle-aged man. He is a young, active, well-trained man, not a tradesman, it is true, but what might be called a skilled labourer. He is probably married, with three or four children. At 40 years of age he has to leave the service, and all he has then to rely on is his deferred pay.
Improved conditions in some respects wove granted by the Ministry early this month. When going on leave, men now receive travelling expenses to their homes if these are at a distance from the port. Leave rations have been raised from ls. 4d. to 2s. 3d., and, as I have stated, child allowance has been increased from 6d. to 9d. a day. The leave travelling provision is appreciated ‘by those who do not live at the ports where the leave is granted, but it confers no benefit’ on those who do not have to travel to their homes.
I have been referring to the pay and conditions of the average A.B. It must be remembered that certain skilled men receive some further advantages. After three years, a skilled man of good conduct receives badge money. For the first badge he receives 3d. a day additional, and after eight years he receives another 2d. a day. They are required to have an excellent record of conduct, and to be especially proficient.
Perhaps it would be advisable also to mention what naval officers receive. Honorable members must understand that naval officers as a class are probably the most highly trained men in any service. They enter the Navy at the age of thirteen, and, as one who knows something of educational matters, I can assure honorable members that no other class of the community receives such wide education ‘and training as do naval officers. The rates of pay for officers are as follow : -
At 45 they must retire. They receive rations to the same value as do the men, namely, ls. 4d. a day. They receive deferred pay. but no marriage allowance.
The facts which I have mentioned are difficult to obtain by those who have not access to the records. The leave allowance recently granted docs not even apply to Air Force men on board the Albatross. Some of those forming the crew of that ship have to pay their own travelling ex- penses when they go on leave, while others receive the new allowance.
The Navy is known as the silent service, and, for that matter, all branches of the forces must be silent. The manufacturers can come to this House, and, by means of a deputation, lay their case before the Prime Minister. The wheatgrowers, also, have means of stating their case, and the trade unionists have plenty of representation here. Even the pensioners occasionally have their grievances mentioned. The men of the services, however, can take no part in politics, and have no mouthpiece. They have no means of approaching the Government, to whom, however, they owe the strictest loyalty. Therefore, it is only fair that honora’ble members should be made aware of the low level to which their pay has fallen. Everybody knows the high traditions of the Navy. We demand a high standard of conduct and efficiency from the men, together with a high standard of physique, character and loyalty. That loyalty actually exists. The recent talk of disaffection and communism in the Navy need not be regarded seriously. The service, as a whole, is absolutely loyal. There never was a time when, speaking generally, better relations existed between the men and their officers. The trouble is that they are not getting enough pay.
– Do officers on retirement at forty-five receive a pension?
– No; but they get their deferred pay. To sum up, therefore, the A.B., from whom we expect such a high standard of conduct, receives in cash - exclusive of the value of rations amounting to 9s. 4d. a week - £1 19s. Sd. a week if he is single. If married, he receives £2 lis. 4d., and £2 16s. 7d. if he has one child. If he bus two children he receives £3 ls. 10d., and. if three children, £3 7s. Id. Even then, as honorable members will note, he receives less than the basie wage.
I trust that the Government realizes thu justice of the case I have put forward, and will resolve to. do something about it. I speak in the interests, not only of the men, but of the country as well. We are proud of our services. Returned soldiers who are members of this House have been through experiences which give them the right to speak on these matters. We know something of service conditions, and we wish to be able to retain our pride in the Navy, Army and Air Force. I ask the Government to take early action to improve service conditions, and, at least, to bring the rates of pay into line with those which prevail in other walks of life.
– I appreciate the spirit in which the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) has brought this matter before the House, and I feel sure that his only desire is to assist the Government. This subject has given the Government much concern. 1 appreciate what the honorable member said regarding the loyalty of the services. There is no justification for the suggestion that because the men feel that, perhaps, they are not sufficiently remunerated, disaffection or disloyalty prevails. The> Government realize* the splendid service being rendered by the men in the Navy, Army and Air Force. The only thing which prevents the Government from more generously rewarding the men of the services is lack of funds. It would be well, perhaps, in view of what has been said on this subject, to place before honorable members just what the Government has in mind in regard to conditions in the services.
As the result of conferences between representatives of the Commonwealth and the States, held in 1931 to consider the financial position of Australia as a whole, the agreement known as the Premiers plan was arrived at, and adopted by all the respective governments. This agreement required the reduction by 20 per cent, of all reducible expenditure within each government’s control, and, to give effect to and provide machinery for carrying out the Commonwealth’s share of the agreement, the Financial Emergency Act 1931 was passed.
The provisions of the Financial Emergency Act required in effect the reduction of salaries - including allowances whether received in cash or in any other form - by varying percentages ranging from 18 per cent, in the case of the lower-paid adult male employees to 25 per cent, in the case of the higher paid, but these arrangements were subject to the condition that the salary of an adult male employee should not be reduced below £182 per annum. The section of the act applying particularly to members of the Defence Forces required that the reduction of their salaries should approximate as nearly as practicable to the amounts by which salaries - corresponding in amount to the salaries of members of the forces - of other officers and employees were respectively reduced.
In giving effect to the provisions of the act it was found that the Navy scale of pay was such as to permit the full reduction being made from all ranks, and, at the same time, leave the adult lowest rating in receipt of the basic wage whilst, retaining reasonable margins between ranks. In the Military Force, and to a lesser extent the Air Force, however, a literal application of the terms of the act would have resulted in a number of the lower paid ranks being reduced to a common basic level. Such a result would have destroyed the principle of higher pay for greater responsibility, and also would have removed any incentive from the lower ranks to qualify for or even accept promotion. In these circumstances the reductions were modified to an extent sufficient to preserve the small margins between the ranks affected. Under section 10 of the act, for the purpose of calculating the reduction to be made, the salary of an officer or employee was deemed to be the amount which would have been payable to him had there been no decrease in his salary on or subsequent to the 1st July, 1930, in consequence of a variation in the index numbers. The effect of this section was that the reduction of £18 per annum on account of the fall in the cost of living made from salaries of members of the Public Service on the 16th April, 1931, was taken as part of the reduction under the act. In consequence of this provision, and because the pay of the Defence Forces had remained stationary since the 1st July, 1924, representations were made by Service Boards that, in order to. place the members of the forces on an equality with those of the general Public Service, service rates of pay should be nominally increased by an amount equal to the increases on account of cost of living granted to the Public Service since that date, and that the reductions should be made on that basis. It was considered, however, that the terms of the act did not allow of this course being followed. Representations were also made on behalf of the Navy that deferred pay, which becomes payable only on completion of engagement or on discharge, be excluded from the operations of the act. The advice of the Commonwealth law advisors is, however, that deferred pay ifr. Lyons. cannot be so exempted. The Financial Emergency Act 1932 provides generally for a further reduction of £8 per annum from the salary of each male adult employee, and also for repealing the provision in the original act for a minimum rate of £182 per annum, but section 18 c of the amended act provides specially that the salaries of members’ of the permanent naval, military and air forces shall be subject to reduction to such extent and in such manner as are prescribed. A sub-committee of senior finance officers was appointed to consider the application of this provision to the services, and it reported that as regards the Navy the reductions made under the original act had brought about the position that the adult naval basic rating had been reduced to the common basic level, although hitherto his pay had been maintained at a higher level than that of the basic employee in the Military or Air Force. The committee also drew attention to the fact that the value of provisions and uniform allowance had automatically fallen with the decline in the cost of commodities. For these reasons it was recommended that the petty officers and men of the Navy be not subjected to any further reduction under the amended act, and this recommendation was given effect. I may add that in industrial awards it is recognized that the basic worker in the mercantile marine should receive a higher wage than the basic worker ashore ; so that the policy adopted as between the basic worker in the Navy and in the Military and Air Forces is consistent with that obtaining in the industrial world.
Regarding the officers of the sea-going Navy and members of the Naval Auxiliary Service, Military and Air Forces, the mb-committee was unable-to advance any reasons for the exemption of these members from the further reduction except in so far as it was necessary to maintain margins between ranks.
Although the amending act does not specifically refer to the further reduction on account of the fall in the cost of living, I stated in my budget speech, when referring to the projected amending legislation, that there had been an additional full in the cost of living, and that the index number for the twelve months ended the 31st March, 1932, warranted a further reduction at the rate of £8 per annum for each employee. That statement was repeated in my speech on the Financial Emergency Bill on the 16th September, appearing on page 957 of Hansard. When reviewing the report of the sub-committee, the chiefs of staff, while agreeing to the principle of applying variations in the cost of living to members of the forces, pointed out that the forces had not received the increases granted to the Public Service since 1924, and recommended that no further reductions should be enforced until members of the forces are placed in the same relation to members of the Public Service as they were on the 1st July, 1924, when the last general adjustments in pay rates were approved.
It is true that the Public Service practice of observing the rise or fall in cost of living has not generally been followed in fixing the rates of pay for the respective services, but nevertheless the increases granted to defence services since 1910 bear, so far as they can definitely be compared, favorable relation to those granted to the Public Service. Further, the basic adult in the Military or Air Force has at no time received a wage higher than the basic rate, a position which would have been brought about by exempting the services from the further reduction.
Arising out of the reductions made in pay clue to the operation of the Financial Emergency Act 3931, the Naval Board has represented that considerable hardship is being experienced, particularly by the lower paid employees. I may here explain that the emoluments of a naval rating are made uppartly by cash payments, partly by issues in kind such as provisions, and partly by deferred pay, the latter being payable only on completion of engagement or on discharge from the service. From his cash payments the rating must, if married or with dependants, maintain his home, provide for his own personal expenses, and, should he desire to visit his home during leave periods, must pay the cost of transport. Naval ratings are enlisted from all parts of Australia, and the nature of their calling necessitates long periods of absence from their homes, and, in many instances, costly journeys to reach their homes. It has been represented that in a large number of cases the members have, because of the reductions made, not been able to afford the cost pf transport to their homes, and consequently the Government has approved that in future the cost of transport will, in these circumstances, he borne by the Commonwealth. As further definite measures of relief, the Government has already approved of the rate for child endowment being increased from 6d. per clay to the Public Service rate of approximately 9d. per day or £13 per annum for each child, and also of the victualling allowance during leave periods being increased from the current rate of ls. 4d. per diem to 2s. 3d. per diem. This action has recently been taken in order to remove what we acknowledge to be injustices. The position to-day is that the representations of the Public Service Board on behalf of the Naval, Military and Air Services are at present under the consideration of the Government. They need careful investigation in order that justice may be done. It is just one more of those things which, as I pointed out in reply to questions to-day, the Government needs more time to consider. The honorable member for Werriwa, who has moved this motion, is not more concerned than the Government about this matter. I appreciate the value of the services rendered by the members of the various services. I give the honorable member the definite assurance that his representations, and also those of other honorable members, will be given the fullest’ consideration. The Government will approach this matter with sympathy and a desire to remove any injustice that may be disclosed by an early investigation.
.- The honorable member for Werriwa has made out a reasoned case which will draw the attention, not only of the Parliament, to the position that obtains in the defence services, but also of the people of Australia to the general position respecting the wages of the workers of Australia, whether inside or outside of the military, naval and air forces. I have a sincere sympathy with men who spend most of their lives at sea, because they are denied much of the pleasures of life enjoyed by others. Therefore, a special case can be made out for naval men. The honorable member has made particular reference^ to naval ratings, but he has included in his remarks generally the defence forces. When it was found necessary 10 make economies in 1931 those forces made their ^sacrifice along with the rest of the public servants of Australia. Provision was made to prevent the wage of any member of the Service from being reduced below £182 per- annum, which was then the Australian basic wage. Therefore, no reduction wa.s made in the basic wage of any member of the Service.
– There was compulsory rationing on top of that.
– There was compulsory rationing, but provision’ was made that the rationing should not bring the wage of any member of the Service below the basic wage.
– That did not apply al’ round.
– It applied, and the wage of no member of the Service was reduced below the basic wage. That was definitely laid clown by my Government, and was a condition of the first rationing that took place in the Defence Department. The Prime Minister gave a reasonable reply to the honorable member for Werriwa. He said that consideration would be given to every reasonable proposition put to him, and that the matter would he investigated. I now ask him, as head of the Government, to have an impartial investigation made into the whole question of remuneration for services given, not only inside the Public Service of Australia) but also in industry generally, and to inquire into the effect of the 10 per cent, reduction in real wages which was made by the Arbitration Court early in 1931. I listened with interest, to the honorable member for Werriwa. He made out a good case, and, I think, won the sympathy of the House. He pointed out that, an A.B., married with three children, received in cash £3 7s. Id. per week and his keep on the boat, which, of course, is worth something to him, but the worker outside has his wage fixed by the Arbitration Court on the basis of a man, wife and three children, without keep. The basic wage fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, after allowing for the reduction of 10 per cent, is £3 3s. Without the 10 per cent, reduction it would be £3 10s. The Labour Government, in all its legislation, insisted that the basic wage should not he below £3 10s. The recent amendment of the Financial Emergency Act imposed a further cut in salaries of public servants of £S a year on account of the reduced C03t of living, but there was no warrant for that, and it has caused a good deal of resentment throughout the Public Service. The worker outside is in an even worse position, and the prediction that a reduction of real wages by 10 per cent, would increase employment because the wage fund could be more widely spread, has not been realized. I do not say that the increase in unemployment is entirely due to that reduction, but so far from arresting the downward trend of employment it has accentuated it. Although the decline in the national income by £200,000,000 necessitated somesacrifice by all sections, I have never wavered in my conviction that the basic wage, the minimum living wage, shouldnever have been’ reduced below what was warranted by the fall in the cost of living. The conditions of our workers are being reduced below the standard set up in 1907. Any improvement that can be made in the conditions of the naval, military, and air forces, particularly the lower-paid men, will receive the approval of the party I lead, but the recent reductions in the pay of the Public Service generally also should be reviewed. As the Government is lightheartedly predicting a surplus, and is reducing taxation, we might very well consider some restoration of the percentage reductions suffered by public servants, including the military, naval and air forces ; but more important to the general upward movement would be a review of the 10 per cent, cut of real wages imposed on the outside worker. The Government acted unjustly when it removed the protection provided by my Government in the Emergency Act, that there should be no reduction below £182 a year. On the instructions of the present Government, immediately after that amendment, application was made to the Arbitration Court for a reduction of the wages of the employees of the Commonwealth Railways, and their pay is now down to £2 19s. 6d. When honorable members are expressing their sympathy with the naval ratings I ask them not to overlook the conditions of these railway workers.
.- As far back as the days of the Stuarts it was written -
Om- God and soldier we alike adore.
When at the brink of ruin, nol, before;
After deliv’rance both alike requited.
Our God forgotten and our soldiers slighted.
That the Government was unwise in ordering the recent reduction in the pay of naval ratings is quite evident, but, unfortunately, the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword is particularly true of the Defence Department, and that has always been so. The fighting services are dominated by the clerical services, and will continue to be so until an ordnance corps is formed in the Defence Department. The ordinary clerical officers of the Public Service receive higher pay and better conditions; they retire at a later age, and they are entitled to superannuation benefits which are “ noi. available to the naval and air forces. It is a disturbing fact that the fighting forces are being starved, and depleted to a dangerous extent. In 1913-14 the defence vote was £3,700,000 or 1*7 per cent, of the total Commonwealth expenditure. In 1931-32 it was £3,095,000 or 4.4 per cent, of the total expenditure, notwithstanding that the purchasing power of money had depreciated and that an air force had been added to the services. Expenditure in every other Commonwealth department has increased. In most cases it has trebled, but the defence vote is less to-day than it was in pre-war years. The time available to me will not permit me to dilate on the dangers to which we shall expose our country if we jeopardize our defences, but we are already perilously near the minimum of national insurance. I ask the House to consider the contrast between the pay of the fighting services and that of the clerical staffs. The Chief .of the General Staff, the senior officer in the Army, receives £1,163 per annum. The Secretary for Defence and the liaison officer in Loudon each receive £1,550. In addition, there is an assistant secretary at £1,012 and a finance secretary at £1,112. Turning to the lower ranks, I find that a leading aircraftsman, upon whose skill the life of the pilot may depend, is paid £232 13s. 9d., although a fifth-rate clerk is paid up to £246. The wage of a fitter or turner in outside employment is £220 for a 44-hour week. If such unjust disparity continues, the senior aircraftsmen will, at the earliest opportunity, accept employment outside the service, which will he left with less efficient men. A chief draughtsman in the Army Survey Corps receives £550, whereas the corresponding office in the Commonwealth Lands Department is classified at £612. An ordinary draughtsman in the Army Survey Corps receives £440. and in the Commonwealth Lands Department £5.10. An officer who has reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, after from 20 to 25 years of service, is paid £619, which is about equal in purchasing power to the salary he received as a captain in 1914. A second-class clerk in the Public Service is paid £491, but a captain in the Army who has to work on several nights each week, and often at the week end, receives only £432 and child endowment. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) stated that the cut in wages had been uniform throughout all branches of the Commonwealth Service. That was not so. The permanent defence forces were rationed for two months each year, during the regime of the Scullin Government, while pay clerks, who are dependent on the employment of the Army men, sat more or less idly at their desks and continued to draw full pay. That is an illustration of the differentiation between members of the fighting forces and the clerical staff. The following comparisons also are illuminating. The pay of a second class clerk was raised in 1924 from £500 to £580, and in 1931 from £552 to £624; under the Financial Emergency Act it was reduced to £499, and by the recent £8 reduction to £491. The pay of a captain in the Military Forces was raised in 1924 from £525 to £550. In 1931 his maximum pay was still £550, which was reduced by the Financial Emergency Act to £440 and now to £432. The latter reduction is on account of the reduced cost of living, but the defence forces were never paid this increase in respect of rises in the cost of living. The clerks in the Commonwealth Public Service, including those employed in the Defence Department, had this financial buffer to take the shock of the depression, but the increases they had received during the good times were not extended to the fighting forces, and these rightly protest against suffering a reduction on account of the reduced cost of living as they never participated in the increases. They have been penalized both ways. I have frequently asked questions about this pay reduction, and the discrimination between Army and Air Force pay and that of naval ratings, hut until to-day I have never noticed any evidence of concern amongst members of the Opposition. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that the injustices in the services are to be adjusted. Our fighting forces are now smaller than at any time in the history of the Commonwealth defence system, and they are our only insurance against foreign aggression. If Australia had not had a highly trained defence force at the beginning of the last war and had not been able, with the other parts of the Empire, to play its part, this continent would be to-day dominated by a foreign power. I had no desire to embarrass the Government; on the contrary, my questions have been asked with the object of helping it. As the defence forces are so depleted and inadequate, contentment and efficiency are more necessary than ever before, but will be impossible of attainment while the men in all arms have a sense of injustice.
Motion (by Mr. Gardner) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the House do now adjourn - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 20
– An honorable member must vote as he calls. I did not hear the honorable member forWerriwa (Mr. McNicoll) call with the “Ayes”.
– If an honorable member is obliged to vote as he calls, is he not equally obliged to vote in favour of a motion which he has moved? The honorable member for Werriwa has moved that the House do now adjourn. Is he not obliged to vote in favour of that motion? On a previous occasion I was obliged to vote in favour of a certain motion which I had moved.
– The standing order refers only to an honorable member’s call. There is a difference between this case and that referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The honorable member for Werriwa called against the question being put, but the division has been taken on that question, and it has been decided. The question now before the Chair is “ That the House do now adjourn.” Apparently the honorable member for Werriwa is not in favour of the adjournment of the House at this stage.
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I lay on the table of the House the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject : -
Piece Goods, knitted or lock-stitched, in tubular form or otherwise, of any material except when wholly of wool. and move -
That the report be printed.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) proposed -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act 1909-1912.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 40
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) proposed -
Thathe have leave to bring in a bill for an act relating to patents, trade marks, and designs.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 39
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 25 th November (vide page 2844), on motion by Mr. Lyons -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Beasley had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after the word “That’’ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ there shall be no remission of land taxation until the Government is prepared to introduce legislation to restore to invalid and old-age pensioners the benefits taken from them by the Financial Emergency Act.”
.- The decline in the price of wheat over the last eight years is illustrated in the following table taken from Broomhall’s Corn Trade Year-Book.
For the year 1931, the price of Australian wheat f.o.b. was 2s. 7d. a bushel, while the price in London was 2s. 8¼d. For the present year the Australian price is 2s.11d. f.o.b. at Australian ports, and 3s. 2d. in the United Kingdom.
Were it not for the fact that the exchange adds approximately 7d. a bushel to the price of wheat, the Australian price would be only about1s. 9d. a bushel. If we deduct l½d. for freight, and 3d. for bags, the return to the farmers this year, apart from the exchange, would be only1s. 4½d. In America and Canada the farmers are receiving only about1s. a bushel. In my opinion, wheatgrowing will be a matter of the survival of the fittest. I do not know whether Australia will survive as a wheat-growing country ; but it does not seem likely, when we realize that, except for the exchange, which adds 7d. a bushel to the price of wheat, 50 per cent. of our growers would have gone out of production before this.
I propose to put forward a plan involving the imposition of a sales tax on flour, by means of which the Government could increase the assistance to farmers. The common objection to this proposal is that itwill make bread dearer; but the price of bread to-day is out of all proportion to the price of wheat. A 4-lb. loaf of bread can be made from 4 2-7 ths. 1b. of wheat, which produces 3 lb. of flour, 12-14ths of a lb. of bran, 5-14ths of a lb. of pollard, and l-14th of a lb. of waste. When wheat costs 3s. a bushel, the cost of 4 2-7ths lb. of wheat is 2.571d., less the value of the offal valued at £5 a ton, which for the quantity of wheat under consideration, is .8d. The net value of the wheat in a 4-lh. loaf is, therefore, 1.77ld., or, say, lid. This 4-1 b. loaf is retailed to the public at prices which vary from 8d. to lid., though the cost of the flour of which it is made is less than 2d.
One has only to look at the prices received by farmers for wool, wheat, meat and milk, and the price that is paid by the public for bread, for wool when it is turned into a suit of clothes, and for meat and milk, which are simply handled without any labour value being added to them, to realize that an injustice is being done both to the farmers and to the public. I recently spent some time in the country districts of Victora, and found that at two large mill towns, the price of bread was lid. per 4-lb. loaf, while in adjacent towns the price was 1.0d., though the price of wheat was less than 3s. a bushel. I was informed by a reputable resident in one of the towns that flour manufactured from wheat grown in the district could be bought in Melbourne, 200 miles distant, and sold at a profit in the town in competition with supplies from the local mill, notwithstanding that freight had been paid on it both ways.
In a suit of tailor-made clothes, valued at from £8 to £9, the value of the raw wool is not more than 5s. or 6s. Fat lambs on the farms to-day are worth from 2d. to 2;Jd. per lb., while the retail price in Melbourne varies from 7d. to l’Od. per lb. Fork worth 3Jd. per lb. on the farm is retailed at-8d. to ls. per lb. Mutton and beef are being sold at corresponding rates. Milk on the farm is worth 6d. a gallon, but is retailed at from 5d. to -6d. a quart. Is it any wonder that the working man has nothing to spare from the wages he is getting, even when fully employed? The high cost, of living is crippling all enterprise, notwithstanding the fact that the raw material required for the production of foodstuffs and clothing is being supplied by the primary producers at, in some cases, 50 per cent, below cost. If we could give the working people relief from high living costs, they would be able to help us to reduce production costs.
While I am in agreement with the Government in providing assistance to the wheatgrowers in the form of a bounty to the extent of £2,000,000, I cannot congratulate them on the method .of distribution. The first proposal was for £1,250,000 to wheat-growers, and £1,000,000 as a subsidy on superphosphate. Now, £2,000,000_ has ‘been allocated to wheat-growers, to be paid through the States, and £250,000 for superphosphate for non-wheat-growers. A large and influential deputation of farmers and farmers’ representatives, waited on the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) about a week ago, and clearly expressed their opinions of the Government’s proposal. They suggested that £2,000,000 be allocated as a bounty on export, and that the balance be used as a subsidy on superphosphate.
Personally, I a in in favour of an export bounty on wheat to the extent that the £2,000,000 would cover. This is the considered opinion of the organized wheatgrowers. It would have the effect of raising the home-consumption price by 3Jd. a ‘bushel, assuming the bounty to be 3)d.
I realize that the finding of this amount is not easy; but there are four sources from which the money might foe obtained - (1) By loan, but this is out of the question; (2) from revenue; (3) from a sales tax on flour; and (4) from revenue, plus a sales tax. If a sales tax on flour of £2 a ton were levied, the Government could increase the bounty by 2d. a bushel, making it 5d., without imposing any additional burden on the Government or the consumer. When the Government first proposed a bounty on wheat, flour was .£8 10s. a ton in Victoria.. It is now £8 2s. 6d. a ton - a drop of 7s. 6d., brought .about by a further fall in the price of wheat, which, on the annual consumption of 650,000 ton3 of flour, means a further reduction in the amount that the Australian farmers will receive of £243,000. Therefore, the fall in price has already absorbed one-eighth of the proposed bounty.
As there has been no reduction in the price of bread,, who is pocketing thi» amount? The Government need have no fear of establishing the principle of paying a bounty on wheat, particularly when bounties are paid to so many other industries which are not nearly so important as farming. Take the bounty on sulphur. In 1929-30, the bounty amounted to £24,452; in 1930-31, to £21,575, and in 1931-32, to £16,254, making a total of £62,181 paid as a sulphur bounty in those three years. That bounty should be disallowed immediately, because the protection given to the sulphur industry by way of exchange is more than sufficient. During the last two months the Phosphate Co-operative Company, a purely farmers’ company, with which I am associated as chairman, paid not less than £12,000 in exchange on one cargo, and one part cargo of sulphur. Other companies are not put to that expense, because they use sulphur extracted from Australian pyrites or zinc concentrates.
– Why does not the Phosphate Co-operative Company use Australian pyrites?
– It cannot do so because its works are designed for the use of sulphur, and not pyrites or zinc concentrates.
– The company is antiAustralian.
– Let me tell the honorable member that during the last two or three years, the Phosphate Co-operative Company has by its operations reduced the cost of production in Victoria by over £300,000 per annum. In addition, it has reduced the price of superphosphate throughout Australia by over £1 a ton. This company, which is owned and controlled by the farmers, and is a purely co-operative concern, has performed a national work. At Geelong this company pays a wharfage fee of no less than 5s. on every ton of sulphur, and on the two cargoes to which I have referred, consisting of 5,000 tons of sulphur, it paid wharfage amounting to £1,250. When a condition like that exists, is it any wonder that the wheat-growers have to appeal to the Commonwealth Government for assistance? Other companies in Victoria which are using sulphur, are in the same position as this company, while those situated in the other States are not subjected to these extreme wharfage rates. I understand that wharfage on sulphur in other States is approximately1s. a ton as against 5s. a ton in Victoria. I am not complaining in regard to the exchange paid by the Phosphate Co-operative Company, hut am simply showing the added costs in this industry, and the protective incidence of this high exchange rate to Australian manufacturers of pyrites and zinc concentrates. The exchange on sacks and sulphur alone increases the cost of production of superphosphate by 6s. a ton. Although the Government’s first proposal of a subsidy of £1 a ton on superphosphate would have been of some assistance to the superphosphate manufacturers on account of the expected increased output and the probable lowering of production costs, I was not in favour of it, because I believe that a straightout bounty on wheat would meet the growers’ requirements much more satisfactorily than a subsidy on superphosphate. If the Government is really anxious to assist the wheat-growers, I suggest two things that it might do which would be of immense value to the industry. First, it could introduce legislation providing for a marketing scheme, under which the whole of the Australian wheat would be handled and marketed by one authority, that authority to have the sole control of sales and chartering, thus eliminating all selling and chartering competition. I ask honorable members would it not be better to eliminate the few merchants who operate in Australia than to sacrifice the whole of those engaged in wheat-growing? The passing of legislation such as I have suggested would enable the growers to receive a reasonable price for local consumption, and would, on the savings effected plus the local consumption price, improve the value of wheat by at least 3d. a bushel all round. I have said that were it not for the fact that the exchange position is in our favour to the extent of about7d. a bushel, the price of wheat at country sidings would be about1s. 9d. Deducting 1½d. for cartage to railway stations and 3d. a bushel for bags, the net return would be1s. 4½d. a bushel on farms for the present year. The present price of wheat at country sidings is approximately 2s. 4d. a bushel and a reasonable price would be 3s. 4d. Secondly, the Government could, in conjunction with the States, help to install a bulk-handling scheme. Such a scheme is calculated to save another 3d. a bushel to the grower, thus increasing his return by 6d. a bushel. On the present season’s output, that would mean the distribution of an additional £5,000,000 among the growers. The installation of the scheme would also provide considerable employment over a period of several years. The installation of the bulk-handling system in Australia would be a bold and forward step, with far reaching beneficial effects not only to the farmers, but to the nation as a whole. Is the Government sufficiently farseeing and courageous enough to make this forward move? The present price of wheat demands prompt action on the part of the Government, and under a bulk-handling scheme the fanners could compete on even terms with the whole world, thus eliminating the need for approaching the Government for a bounty or other form of assistance.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the bill because it proposes to give a reasonable modicum of relief to some sorely tried sections of the community. The principal criticism of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), as I understood it, was that the budget brought in by this Government had not been so framed as to leave pensions untouched, which would have meant, accepting recent figures, that pension payments would increase in this current year to something like £13,000,000. Had that happened, few other sections of the community, except possibly the wheat-growers, could have expected any relief at al’. This business of championing the pensioners is, I admit, a paying one, and it is being exploited to the full by the members of the Opposition. No doubt they will see the results at the next elections. I think it an immoral practice to make political capital out of something that is economically inevitable. [Quorum formed.] I repeat that the business of championing the pensioners has been made full use of by the members of the Opposition.
– The honorable member is getting down to the gutter. He is making dirty insulting remarks.
– I ask the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to withdraw those words.
– The honorable member for Corio-
– No explanation i=> permitted at this stage.
– Then I shall not withdraw. I repeat that the honorable member for Corio made use of insulting remarks. He suggested that I am using the pensioners for political purposes.
– He should be made to withdraw that remark.
– The proper procedure for the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to follow is to take exception later to the words complained of, and to ask for their withdrawal. He is not justified in continuing to repeat the statement which I have asked him to withdraw.
– I withdraw it, because I do not wish to be disrespectful to the Chair. I now ask that the statement of the honorable member for Corio, that I and other members of the Opposition play upon our sympathy with the pensioners for political purposes, be withdrawn.
– I ask the honorable member for Corio to withdraw the expression which is offensive to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.
– If exception is taken to my remarks on the ground that they are personally offensive to any individual member of the Opposition, I withdraw them in compliance with the request of the Chair.
I maintain, as has been maintained here times without number, apparently without any effect, that it is not the rate but the dead weight of pensions that should he the pre-occupation of the House, and that is the reason for the pension economies proposed by this Government. I do not think that it if realized normally that we are paying now at the rate of £11,000.000 a year for invalid and old-age pensions. That sum is more than was paid in pensions during any of the post-war years of prosperity, when we were receiving high prices for wool and wheat, and borrowing from abroad at the rate of £30,000,000 a year.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to2.15 p.m.
– The total dead weight of £11,000,000 which the Commonwealth Treasury has to bear in respect of pensions is of very much greater importance and concern to this House than is the actual rate of the pension.
– The pensioner does not think so.
– Probably not; but this Parliament has to look after the interests of the whole of the people and not only those of the pensioners.
It is of interest to realize that the £11,000,000 which will be expended on pensions in the current financial year exceeds the outgoing for this purpose in the post-war years, when the prices of wool and wheat were high, governments were borrowing £30,000,000 a year from overseas, and the country was on the high tide of prosperity. In those bountiful years, we were not paying for pensions anything like the £11,000,000 which is our obligation in this year of great financial stress. Unfortunately, that fact is consistently overlooked by members of the Opposition. Pensions have been maintained at their present rate only by means of penal taxation, and when the Government proposes a small measure of relief to the taxpayer, we hear the usual cry that this is a rich man’s budget, and that the faces of the poor are being ground in the dust. That is an unfair criticism, against which I protest. We should rid our minds of much of this cant, and recognize that, for better or worse, we are living under a system of private enterprise whereby the savings of the thrifty are collectively used for the employment of the many, and if those savings are diminished by punitive taxation, the employing capacity of the Commonwealth is reduced. As to the connexion between high taxation and unemployment, I would like to quote from the results of research carried out by the General Federation of Trade Unions of Great Britain, an organization which has conducted research into this subject. The general tenor of its reports is that high taxation of the type imposed in Britain for many years, and in Australia during the last few years, is definitely creative of unemployment. I quote a paragraph from the Labour Daily Herald of London, published in the early stages of this depression -
The burden of all taxation falls in the long run on productive industry. Undue taxation tends to prevent the accumulation of that capital which is necessary to maintain and expand industry. In other words, taxation affects prices and undue taxation tends to restrict trade. These are among the conclusions reached by a committee set up by the General Federation of Trade Unions to report on the effect of taxes on prices, and the reaction of taxation upon unemployment. . . “ It is foolish,” they say, “ to expect that the social improvements for many millions can continuously be paid for by exactions from the wealth of a few thousands. However desirable it may be to secure fairer distributions of wealth, it is fatal to national prosperity to eat up that capital which is necessary to finance present and future production.”
I would emphasize that this is from a Labour source.
The relatively small remissions of taxation which are proposed in this bill cannot in fairness be described as truckling to the rich man and grinding the faces of the poor. Although it is difficult to make a quantitative calculation, the connexion between high taxation and unemployment must be admitted. The efforts of all right-minded men are being directed towards creating greater employment,but apart from the reflection of better conditions overseas, such a restoration can be brought about in Australia only by relieving the employer of some of the burdens he is now bearing, in the forms of high taxation, high overhead charges, and consequently, high costs of production. This bill represents a modest start in that direction, and the Government is to be commended for having proposed it. There are large classes in this community who, for the last two financial years, have paid all their taxation, and much more besides, out of capital. These people will get some relief from this bill. Their employing capacity has been considerably reduced in recent years, and their capital eaten into. Every reduction of corporate capital diminishes the employing capacity of the country.
The small remission of 10 per cent, of the super tax on income from property,’ at which the finger of scorn has been pointed by members of the Opposition, I heartily defend. I do not recoil in horror from the fact, first stated in this debate by the Leader of the Opposition that in giving relief in respect of land tax, we are relieving, not only the pastoralist but also owners of city property, as two-thirds of the federal land taxation is paid in respect of non-rural property. A prominent boot and shoe manufacturer in Melbourne told me recently that the State and Federal land taxes on the freehold sites of the factories and chain distributing stores belonging to his company, represented, in the last financial year, 4½d. per pair of boots or shoes of the company’s output. His firm manufactures the cheaper lines of footwear, sold at abour, 12s. 6d. a pair, and this burden of taxation must be paid by the workers and their families.
– Does the honorable member anticipate that the manufacturer will reduce the price of his boots and shoes by the amount of taxation remitted in this bill?
– The Commonwealth Government has no control over prices, but in the hoot and shoe industry, particularly, competition exercises a very real control. The factories are capable of producing more than the community can consume, and the domestic competition is such that manufacturers must take advantage of every penny saved to reduce the price of their product, in order to be able to hold their own in the market. Therefore, I believe that some, at least, of the taxation remitted will be passed on to the consumer. I have mentioned the boot and shoe trade as merely typical. The remission of one-third of the federal land tax on city freeholds will bring down office rents generally, and will reduce overhead expenses on a wide range of business and of secondary industry.
The Leader of the Opposition and his supporters, by inference, at any rate, hold up enterprises of the type of Myer’s Emporium, in Melbourne, to contempt and obloquy. Much as one may regret the passing of the age of handicrafts and small traders, the development of big emporiums and chain stores is definitely in the interests of the consuming masses. They mean more efficient merchandising, cheaper costs, a wider range of goods than has been possible in the past, and increased employment. I do not subscribe to the view that it is moral to evoke a cheer in any community by pointing the finger of scorn at the so-called big city capitalists, the land-owners, bondholders, and employers. The members of the Opposition make such people the target of their invective and contumely; but that attitude is cheap. All aggregations of capital are represented by these honorable gentlemen as being prejudicial to the masses of the people, but that is far from proven.
The remissions of taxation and the payment of large sums to the wheatgrowers and others are rather more difficult to defend in the light of the possibility of war debt payments to Britain having to be resumed. The Leader of the Opposition and others have suggested that the failure of the Government to create a suspense account for dealing with the suspended interest and sinking fund which normally the Commonwealth would have had to pay to Great Britain, in respect of the war debt, is evidence of slack finance. I admit that in private business it could and should be so regarded. But the Government had no alternative. It might have created a suspense account, into which some or all of the sinking fund payments which Great Britain had postponed for two years, might have been placed, so that, when we were required to resume payments, the necessary money would be available. If we had done that, which doubtless would have represented the perfection of finance, we would have denied ourselves the benefit . which Great Britain’s generosity was meant to confer upon us. For practical as well as political reasons the Government could not do other than make the most of the financial relief that had ‘been given to it, and allow the future to take care of itself. I maintain that, in respect of these war debt payments to Britain, the future is not so very alarming. In respect of the war debt sinking fund payments due to Great Britain, we are relieved until the end of this financial year. The next payment on sinking fund account will be due in September, 1933, and will be a liability upon the next financial year. Even if Great Britain should be required to pay America in full, I doubt that Australia would be called upon by Great Britain to provide more than six months’ interest in the current financial year, and by June next it should he possible to do that, notwithstanding the remissions of taxation proposed in this bill. 1 am not very much perturbed by the American attitude in regard to war debts generally. Having regard to the peculiar position of the presidency, there must be a period of several months of jockeying for position, finessing, and face-saving in respect of war debts, and it is beyond any capacity for clear-thinking that I may have to believe that America will continue successfully to demand payment of war debts in full. Nothing is more certain, in my opinion, than that after some months of negotiation there will be a definitely downward revision of war debts, although not necessarily, or oven probably, cancellation. Wilh regard to the war debt that we owe to Britain, I have no doubt that in due course Britain will pass on to us proportionately the benefit that she has obtained by the general lowering of interest rates. Britain will not deal harshly with us; but any alleviation of the position can come about only by a mutual and voluntary review of a contractual obligation voluntarily entered into by us.
J shall support, the bill.
Mr. BAKER (Oxley) [2.32TJ.- We have to-day been treated to a rather lengthy lecture, which contained the advice that, in dealing with this subject, we should fro:e our minds from cant. I trust that I shall not be accused on this occasion, as I was a few days ago, of disfiguring the record of the proceedings of this House when I say that, in my opinion, the arguments advanced by the Government and its supporters in justification of the introduction of this bill consist mainly of cant, humbug, and hypocrisy
– Order! The honorable member has made a bad start. The words he has just used are distinctly offensive, and must be withdrawn.
– -I withdraw* them. I was merely quoting a certain expression which aptly described the situation as I saw it. We are now facing one of the most extraordinary positions that have arisen in the history of Australia. I do not believe even very many of the most bitter opponents of this Government, or very few of its own supporters, thought that so early in its career it would act as it has acted. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) introduced what was called a Financial Emergency Bill. The dictionary definition of “ emergency “ in the sense in which it was used in that measure is “ pressing necessity “. The Government contended that the pressing necessity of balancing the budget made the introduction of that bill unavoidable. The bill provided for large remissions of taxation, estimated by the Government to be worth £2,100,000 per annum, but it also provided for reductions of Public Service salaries and invalid and old-age pensions, and a restriction of the scope of the maternity allowance. It was estimated that the expenditure on invalid and old-age pensions would be reduced by £1,100,000 by the provisions of that legislation.
When the budget was introduced, honorable members on this side of the chamber contended that the revenue had been under-estimated, and the expenditure over-estimated, but supporters of the Government asserted that this was not so. Our Standing Orders prevent me from quoting extracts from speeches delivered in that debate, but if I were permitted to do so I could show by specific quotations that almost every honorable member on this side of the House who took part in that debate accused the Government of having underestimated the revenue. I, myself, compared the Prime Minister with an exPremier of Victoria, the late Sir Thomas Bent, who, rightly or wrongly, gained a reputation for under-estimating revenue and over-estimating expenditure. This enabled him to show substantial surpluses at the end of each financial year, and on this account he was said by some people to be a successful Treasurer. The assertions of honorable members on this side of the chamber in regard to the budget of this Government have been amply justified. Two months ago remissions of taxation to the extent of £2,100,000 were granted by this Government, and the Baily ‘Telegraph, a newspaper which supports the Government, stated yesterday that the remissions now proposed would be worth approximately another £4,250,000. This means that, by forcing our invalid and old-age pensioners to sacrifice 2s. 6d. per week each, and by remitting taxation, the Government has benefited its own political supporters to the extent of £6,500,000. Honorable members opposite are finding considerable difficulty in advancing any arguments in support of the Government’s actions in this regard. The Labour party has been accused of indulging in unworthy political propaganda, because it has had so much to say about the reduction of pensions.
– Hear, hear !
– In spite of that remark we feel it to be our duty to our constituents to show as frequently as we get an opportunity to do so that this Government is lifting burdens from the shoulders of the wealthier people in this community, and placing heavier burdens upon the shoulders of the poorer people. We do not approve of that policy, and we shall resist it by every means in our power. We shall reiterate that the Government is acting unfairly towards those who most need assistance in this country. The sheer logic of the facts is that the Government could not only have avoided reducing pensions and Public Service salaries, and limiting the scope of the maternity allowance, but it could actually have restored these payments to their former level. The Prime Minister has. himself, admitted in reply to a question which I asked him, that these remissions of taxation could not have been made without reducing pensions.
In what might be called his second budget speech, the right honorable gentleman intimated that so far in this financial year there is a surplus of £3,500,000; yet the Government is proposing to disburse £4,250,000. This seems to show that it is not now nearly so insistent as it was formerly on the urgent necessity for balancing the budget. Probably like some other members of this Parliament, I was for a time under the impression that it was only necessary to show by unanswerable argument that a government was taking an unreasonable course to get it to change its policy; but I have since come to the ‘ conclusion that this is not so. To this extent I have been disillusioned.
– The honorable member is growing up.
– That is more than I can say for the honorable member, mentally. There seems to be a force behind this Government which is compelling it to grant relief to the wealthy people of this community. Such an irrefutable case was advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) only yesterday against the proposal of the Government in regard to the remission of land taxation, that no effort has been made by honorable members opposite to answer it by relevant arguments. All sorts of irrelevant statements have been made, and many red herrings have been drawn across the trail; but the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition remain unaffected. The members of the Labour party have been charged with undue repetition in accusing the Government of unfair financial practices; but we shall continue to say that the course which the Government is following is inexcusable. We shall do our utmost to drive home to the minds of the people of Australia the fact that this Government is withholding money from our invalid and old-age pensioners in order to make it unnecessary for wealthy land interests in Australia to pay their just taxation, and for other comfortably situated sections of the community to make their fair contribution towards the cost of Government. A good deal has been heard in recent months about equality of sacrifice, and we have been told on frequent occasions that Australia has turned the corner; but it cannot be contended that there is equality of sacrifice while the people who are least able to carry burdens are obliged to carry the heaviest burdens, and those who are not in need of relief are granted substantial relief.
One honorable member opposite has had the temerity to accuse honorable members on this side of the committee of political immorality simply because they have seen fit to reveal the immoral . actions of the
Government. Only a few weeks ago the Government took steps to overrule certain awards by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator, and justified its action by saying that it was too short of cash lo meet the conditions of the determinations in question. In view of the fact that it is now able to remit £4,250,000 in taxation to the wealthy people of Australia, we can see how hollow were its protestations that it could not afford to pay 700 lads the paltry basic wage upon the attainment of their majority. It has been said that honorable members on this side of the chamber are encouraging the growth of a spirit of class consciousness, but the kind of legislation now before us does more than anything else to develop class consciousness, and to spread communism in this country. It will certainly need more than empty phrases and pious speeches to defeat communism. Almost every action taken by this Government has assisted to build up the communistic movement. If it were not for the fact that Anglo-Saxons are so law abiding, and will suffer greatly before they can be goaded into revolt, the situation would be much more serious than it is. It cannot be said that the Government has in any way attempted to avoid fomenting dissension among the masses of the people.
With other honorable members on this side of the House, I protested against the Government’s amendment of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, pointing out that the pensioners would be much better off if subjected to a straightout additional cut of 2s. 6d. than to the shrewdly designed proposal of the Government. Although the more recalcitrant members in the Government ranks fought against the first proposal for a 2s. 6d. reduction per week, they were hoodwinked into agreeing to the scheme that was advanced later. It has been proved that the alternative is much worse than the original arrangement. Had the straightout reduction of 2s. 6d. a week been made, it would have been possible to rectify the position when a more buoyant revenue was disclosed. Because they represent industrial electorates, some honorable members opposite would have been compelled to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to restore that 2s. 6d. a week to pensioners. Instead, now that the alternative has been adopted, the Government is making generous concessions to the well-to-do sections of the community, and it will be impossible to restore the position of pensioners while this Administration, or another of a similar political complexion, is in office. I support the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney, and in committee, I shall support the clause which provides a small restoration of pensions being granted in special cases.
These amendments to the Pensions Act are not introduced because the Government has suddenly become generous, but because of the undue haste with which the Government forced the last amending bill through, by the application of the guillotine. Had a full opportunity of discussion been afforded to honorable members, these anomalies would not exist.
In common with other honorable members, I have received letters from pensioners informing me that they intend to relinquish their pensions rather than submit to the restrictions which the Government is imposing. I have also received from Queensland letters from employees in petty sessions offices, who perform the work of registrars of pensions, intimating that many persons have surrendered their pensions rather than agree to the provision which allows an amount paid in pension to be a first charge against any property left by the pensioners at death. As a result I asked the Prime Minister the following question : -
What is the number of pensioners in the Commonwealth and in each State who have relinquished their invalid and old-age pensions since the Financial Emergency Act of 1032 came into effect?
That was a straightforward question which warranted an equally straightforward answer. The amended act came into operation on the 12th October. The .right honorable gentleman’s reply was designed to create a false impression.
– At any rate, it succeeded in conveying a false impression. It reads -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information. On the 1st September, 1932, I announced that the Government proposed to institute a careful check upon existing pensions, also certain alterations in the law. Voluntary surrenders since that date have taken place as follows: - and then is given a long list disclosing that, since the 1st September, 1932, pensions have been relinquished to the number of 1,9S8. That was not a straightforward reply to my question. In addition, the answer conveyed gratuitously information that on the 1st September, the Government intended to institute a careful check into existing pensions. A careful check has been maintained upon pensions ever since they have been paid. The only inference, therefore, was that the Prime Minister intended to convey the impression that these pensioners had relinquished their pensions because they were afraid to submit to an investigation by a government official. The press gave great prominence to that idea.
– How are those who Burrendered their pensions managing to exist?
– That is what the honorable member and the Government which he. supports take no care about. They are the people who are responsible for depriving these old persons of the means of existence. Honorable members on this side considered that it was most unfair to pensioners to allow that impression to go abroad. If the department ia doing its job, as I am sure it is, the surrender of a pension would not prevent it continuing with its investigations. On the contrary it would be prima facie a reason why investigations should immediately be instituted. A pensioner guilty of improper practices would be foolish to surrender his pension and so draw attention to his misdemeanour. Believing that the tactics of the Government had tarnished the good name of pensioners, honorable members on this side made further inquiries into the matter, and in answer to a question the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) received the following reply: -
Pensioners who have voluntarily relinquished their pensions, have not furnished the reason for their action. The Government has no reason to suppose that any of these voluntary surrenders have been made by persons who have been drawing pensions -illegally.
If that is so, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to give that statement publicity equal to that given to his previous reply. Yet little publicity has been given to his last answer, the Government, apparently, being desirous of pretending that these 2,000 persons have relinquished their pensions because they fear an in- vestigation, and not because of the coercive legislation introduced by this Administration.
In its proposals to relieve wheatgrowers the Government has proved as inconsistent as in regard to pensions and most other matters. First, it was intended that a sum of £1,250,000 should be made available to relieve wheatgrowers; a further £1,000,000 being expended on fertilizer to help these people. A second proposal was to allow the States to handle the money under the supervision of experts appointed by the Commonwealth. The third and latest idea is that the States shall distribute the money. The Government does not know its mind from day to day. It seems almost certain that it has a fourth alternative ready for promulgation.
Apart altogether from the moral wrong of reducing the income of those who are least well off and giving to those who are wealthy, the Government, for its own political advantage, should endeavour to assist Australia to regain industrial equilibrium. That can best be done in this, as in every other country, by increasing instead of decreasing, the spending power of the community. When the basic wage or a pensioner’s income is reduced, there is an immediate and definite decrease in the spending power of the community. It is a fact that, those who are on the basic wage in Australia are of necessity forced to spend practically the whole of their wages in order to purchase the bare means for subsistence. When yon decrease the income of wealthy persons, you make little or no difference to the spending power of the community. The only effect is to reduce their balance at the bank. This Government, by means of its financial emergency legislation, has considerably reduced the spending power of the Australian people, and if it were sincere in its desire to restore prosperity, it would use the surplus revenue, which is admitted to be approximately £4,000,000, for the purpose of increasing the community’s spending power.
– Let them restore the 10 per cent, cut in wages.
– Yes. In that way we might soon get back to normal conditions, but the policy pursued by the Government is merely retarding our industrial and economic recovery.
.- I listened with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Baker), but I take exception to his statement regarding the purchasing power of the community. I admit that purchasing power is created by the production of goods, and in no other way, but the honorable member’s suggestion that, because the wages of certain “sections of the people have been reduced, the purchasing power of the community has to that extent been lowered, is not borne out by fact. Since this Government has been in power, and as the result of its policy, unemployment figures have shown a steady decrease. In South Australia the decrease has been greatest, hut I noticed in the press the other day that in Melbourne, for the week ending the 23rd November, the number of unemployed has decreased by 2,341.
I welcome this effort by the Government to lighten the burden on industry by remitting taxation, and also its proposal to assist the wheat industry by a grant of £2,000,000 to those engaged in it. This is the first Federal Government which, for many years, Ins made any effort, to reduce taxation. Prior to the advent of this Government, practically every federal administration has increased the burden on the taxpayer. It has been said by honorable members opposite that, in time of financial stress like the present, the Government should not remit taxation. If, however, the difficulties of the Government are great, those of the taxpayers are at least equally serious. The country can be restored to prosperity only by granting some relief to the already overburdened taxpayers.
Members of the Opposition have stated that it is the duty of the Government to make money available for the relief of unemployment. I remind them that, even at the peak of our prosperity, when the
Government was borrowing overseas on a scale previously unknown, private enterprise employed 80 per cent, of the people. Indeed, our present unsatisfactory economic position is due very largely to the burdens imposed by past governments which borrowed too freely, and spent the money on works which, though alleged to be reproductive, resulted in a loss to the Commonwealth.. [Quorum formed. There is no need for the Government to borrow money, or to increase the amount in circulation by undertaking .public works. It is obvious from the bank returns that there is plenty of money available, but the difficulty is in finding profitable avenues of investment for it. Therefore, the money is not in circulation, and is not doing its job. The Government should so frame its policy as to provide for the general public means for the profitable investment of their funds. In this way money will be put into circulation, and a modicum of prosperity will be restored.
This bill provides for a remission of land tax, and I welcome this measure of relief. ‘ Members of the Opposition have objected to this provision on the ground that much of the benefit - two-thirds, the Leader of the Opposition said - will go. to the cities. I do not oppose it on that account; I am not one of those who believe in antagonizing city and country interests.
– But the honorable member does not dispute the figure?
– No; I acknowledge it to be correct. City interests render a service, not only to the people of the - city, but to those of the country also. It is through them that those in the country obtain their supplies, and the facilities for marketing their products. The relief obtained by city interests from this measure will, no doubt, he reflected in reduced charges for services rendered. It is essential that relief should be given to the holders of rural lands. Only recently, a commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate the wool industry, and its report and recommendations are now in the hands of honorable members. In the course of its report, the committee made the startling statement that the federal land tax, in certain instances, represented a charge of as much as 2s. 6d. a sheep carried on pastoral country. The committee recommended that the Government should afford relief from this burden, and, on page 27 of its report, it states -
It is obvious from tuc ‘above facts that the existing legislative provisions which enable land-holders to seek relief from taxation authorities on the ground of hardship are entirely inadequate to meet present circumstau cas.
If such provisions were to be relied upon, it would be necessary to reconstitute the existing tribunal which hears such applications in order that prompt and effective relief may be “iven. The dealing with applications for relief is already considerably in arrears and, in order that these arrears may be disposed of, it is considered that the tribunal should be reconstituted with an independent chairman and a representative of the pastoral or agricultural industry when such properties are being dealt with.
T trust that the Government will give effect to the recommendations of the committee, as regards the operation of the hardship section of the Land Tax Act.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) said that many of the larger landowners were in difficulties to-day because, actuated by greed, they had increased their holdings during the good times. That is an unfair accusation. If it were not for the initiative shown by our primary producers, we should be in a worse position to-day even than we are, because the volume of our exports would be les3, and we should not have sufficient overseas credits to meet our obligations. While it must be acknowleged that many of- the large land-holders, and of the small ones, too, for that matter, committed extravagances during prosperous times, the same charge can be laid against all sections of the community. Had it been otherwise, the country would be better off to-day.
Some honorable members have objected to the relief which this measure affords to income taxpayers. I remind them, however, that the relief afforded is chiefly in regard to property tax, the effect of which has been to increase the rate of interest on mortgages. The Government should give still further relief in this direction, especially if it is given on the understanding that the relief will be handed on directly to mortgagors, and those working on overdrafts. In this way, a reduction could be made in the cost of production, a vital necessity at the present time.
It is also proposed to grant a remission of the sales tax in certain instances. This proposal has met with little opposition, because the remission is in respect of articles used by primary producers and on foodstuffs consumed by the masses. I take it that these proposed remissions will meet with the definite approval of all sections of the House.
Books and literature are also to be exempted from sales tax. It is generally recognized throughout the world that educational books should be available to the people at the lowest possible price, and it was only under the stress of circumstances that this Government levied sales tax and primage on books and literature. I welcome the present proposal of the Government to exempt them from the sales tax.
There has been much criticism of the Government’s taxation proposals. No honorable member was very happy about the reduction that had to be made in oldage and invalid pensions. As has been pointed out by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey), those who criticized the Government’s action in reducing pensions did not take into consideration the fact that it was necessary to collect a huge amount of revenue in order to pay for that social service, and that it was practically beyond the ability or capacity of this country to continue to pay pensions on such a large scale. I suggest that the action of this Government in taking the first opportunity to review the recent reductions in pensions shows that it is anxious to help the pensioners in every way. I hope that as the financial position improves, further concessions will be given to the old-age and invalid pensioners. Those honorable members who condemned the Government for reducing pensions did not take into consideration the effect which this huge impost of pensions upon the community had on unemployment. While I regret that it was necessary, in some instances, to reduce the pensions from 17 s. 6d. to 15s. a week, I suggest to honorable members that the pensioner, even with a payment of 15s. a week, is infinitely better off than the individual who is in receipt of the dole. This Government is using every endeavour to give relief to the unemployed, and, as I have previously stated, the best way to encourage employment is to relieve private enterprise of some of its burdens.
I come now to the relief which the Government proposes to give to the wheat-growers. Like other honorable members, I have received a communication from the South Australian Wheat Pool Association, in which it asks that a direct bounty should be given on the production of wheat. The Government has already decided against that form of distribution of relief, and I contend that there is merit in its action, because a bounty which is paid on wheat does not, in many instances, give relief to the farmers who are in necessitous circumstances. In South Australia, crops which two or three months ago looked like yielding a high return, have since suffered considerably because of red rust and take-all. In many instances farmers will not o’btain any wheat at all, and under the bounty system would receive no relief.
– Yet .they are the most deserving section of the wheat-growers.
– That is so. I consider the proposal of the Government the most equitable method of distribution, and if augmented hy the suggestion of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), it should meet with the approval of the wheat-growers generally, because the States would then be able to afford relief in respect of costs of production. After all, a reduced cost of production is what is badly needed by the industry. I hope that the Government will not adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) to introduce a Wheat Marketing Act for the Commonwealth. I am totally opposed to the principle of compulsory pooling. If, as it is argued, a compulsory pool would be of benefit to the wheat-growers, there would be no need to resort to compulsion in order to gain their support. My experience is that compulsory pools are not in the best interests of the growers. The essence of efficiency is competition, and if we establish a compulsory pool for the marketing of wheat, the grower will have no opportunity to compare his return-“, from the pool with returns that would be available to him if private merchants were operating. ! am an advocate of voluntary pools, because they permit of competition in respect of the marketing of wheat. As a matter of fact, some four years ago I was the largest contributor to the South Australian pool, and, therefore, I speak with some knowledge of this subject. We have already had experience of compulsory pools and marketing ‘boards. The Wheat Board of the United States of America did not act in the best interests pf the wheat-growers of that country, or, iri fact, of any other country. If we market our wheat on a competitive basis, we shall be acting in the best interests, not only of the farmers, but also of Australia as a whole.
I compliment the Government on the modicum of relief that it is giving to other primary producers by way of a subsidy on artificial manures. That will be of great assistance, particularly to the wool-growers, who, according to the recent report of the wool committee, are iti a serious position. The Government subsidy will also assist other forms of primary production. I have much pleasure in supporting the proposals of the Government.
.- I welcome the bill before the House, in spite of all the names that have been given to it. It is a comprehensive measure. It provides for taxation reduction, rural relief, and concessions to pensioners. The one outstanding feature of the bill is the relief that it provides for different sections of the community. I was much surprised at the statement of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) that a time of adversity was the time to maintain taxation. One of our complaints is that the Government of Australia, notwithstanding the reduction of the national income by £200,000,000, is asking the people to bear as much taxation as was imposed upon them, a few years ago. .The time has come for economy, and for a reduction of taxation, and this bill is the first welcome step in that direction. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) suggested that the relief proposed under this “bill was being given at the expense of the social services of this country. As this bill provides for relief to the extent of over £4,000,000, to suggest that that expenditure will be met by a reduction of the maternity bonus and pensions to the extent of £1,100,000, seems to me to be absurd. Many graziers and farmers will appreciate the reduction of the federal land tax by one-third. It has been stated that this remission of taxation will not benefit the struggling man on the land, but I submit that there are thousands of struggling graziers, as well as farmers, who will obtain relief from this concession, which is being made ‘by the Government in recognition of the serious need for some ‘ relief from taxation. The evidence taken by the wool committee shows that, in many instances, federal land tax represents from 20 per cent, and up to 40 per cent, of the gross income from their properties. It is one of the most iniquitous taxes levied upon the community. A tax upon the unimproved value of a man’s property is just as much a capital charge as a tax on the machinery of a factory. I look forward to the time when the Government will realize the futility of the Federal Land Tax Act, and remove it from the statute-book. I have had numerous requests from men in my electorate who are feeling the burden of this taxation, and I am pleased that the Government is making a concession in respect of section 66. Paragraph c of clause 5, however, is not quite clear. It provides that where the profit on a property is not sufficient to enable the owner to pay the tax on it, he may be exempted. “What will be the position of a man who has other interests, and is losing on his pastoral property, but has income from bonds or some other investment? It would be advisable to state clearly that if there is no income from a property it shall not be subject to land tax.
Many statements have been made regarding the effect of the land tax, and we have been told that only one-third of the remission will benefit country owners. The statement that city properties produce two-thirds of the tax is not quite correct; because the comparison is between town lands and country lands, and the former include many country towns, as well a3 the city areas. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey) has related the testimony of a Victorian boot manufacturer that land tax increases the price of his products by 4£d. a pair. In respect of any large business engaged in the manufacture or distribution of goods, whether it be an emporium like that of Anthony Hordern and Company, or a factory such as that of Lysaght’s, the burden of federal land taxation is included in the overhead. If the overhead is reduced, the prices of the commodities these establishments handle can be reduced. We know that when wages and interest rates rise, costs rise; when wages and interest fall, costs fall, and land tax is as much part of the overhead of a factory or emporium as is interest. Therefore, we do not begrudge this concession to those who are engaged in either manufacture or distribution, and I have no doubt that it will be passed on to the consumers by a reduction in the price of commodities.
The statement has been made that the remission of land tax is a concession to tho rich graziers. There are not many who can be so described to-day. I have made inquiries of many accountants who prepare income tax returns for grazing areas, and 1 am convinced that if the Leader of the Opposition were able to examine the income tax returns of graziers, he would discover that few are making a profit, and that the federal land tax is one of the factors which is preventing them from doing so, and a capital tax is no more justified in respect of lands than in respect of bonds or factory machinery. One honorable member has stated in justification of the land tax that roads have been constructed by governments into distant areas to facilitate the marketing of the farmers’ produce. I remind the House that roads are paid for with revenue from three sources - fees for the registration of vehicles, shire rates, and the petrol tax, and the land-owner pays all three. A portion of the road between Melbourne and Sydney, which cost about £1,500,000, runs for long distances almost alongside the railway. It was not constructed to provide facilities for the men on the land who are paying the federal land tax.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) was not quite frank in his reference to the wheat industry. A half truth is worse than a lie, and I have never found a Labour member who was prepared to .state fairly the facts in connexion with the proposal in 1930 to guarantee to the grower 4s. a bushel. The statement has been frequently made, and it was repeated yesterday by the honor.orable member for Capricornia, that a guarantee of 4s. was offered by the Scullin Ministry. That is not so. The proposal was that the State Governments in conjunction with the Commonwealth Government should guarantee the loss on a payment to the farmers of 4s. a bushel; half the loss was to be borne by the States concerned, and the other half by the Commonwealth. The Country party has wrongly been accused of having been responsible for the defeat of that project. The late Mr. Percy Stewart told me personally that the cause of the failure was the condition that the States should guarantee half the loss. The financial position of Western Australia did not warrant the State Government accepting that liability. An impasse was created, and after negotiations between Mr. Stewart and Mr. Parker Moloney the suggestion was made that the difficulty might be overcome if the farmers of Western Australia would accept 4s., less the State Government’s half of the loss which it could not undertake to pay. An understanding was reached between the sponsors of the bill and two Western Australian senators that the vote on the second reading should be deferred until they had had an opportunity to consult their organizations.
– They had over a month to make up their minds after I first made the proposal in this House.
– Those senators intimated that their organizations would probably authorize the acceptance of the proposed alteration, but instead of the vote on the second reading being deferred until the following week, the senator in charge of - the bill allowed it to be taken when he- knew that the numbers were against him. Having regard to the fact that the possible loss on the guarantee was estimated at approximately £8,000,000, and that the Commonwealth Government would have been responsible for half that amount, there is reason for suspecting that the tactics adopted in the Senate were deliberate.
– That is not fair. The Government depended on the support of Country party senators.
– I have repeated the facts as related to me by the late Mr. Stewart, who took a prominent part in the negotiations, and I accept his statement.
Several honorable members on the Government side have attempted to convey to the House knowledge they do not possess in regard to rural matters. Their efforts have been most interesting and amusing, but also misleading. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), for instance, referred to wealthy farmers. If there were any wealthy farmers three years ago, those who have continued to produce wheat have been rapidly getting into debt. He objected to the payment of a bounty on a production basis, on the ground that the man who reaped the biggest quantity of wheat would get the largest share of the bounty. He ignored the fact that, because of the low prices, the man who produces most wheat will lose most money. I have a letter stating that Mr. Liebe, of Western Australia, because of his ambition to become the biggest wheat-grower in the southern hemisphere, produced 100,000 bags of wheat in one season, and. ruined himself by doing so, through the loss of 4s. a bag.
In regard to the yellow circular from South Australia which has been quoted during the debate, I have a telegram which states that the circular emanates, not from any recognized representative body of wheat-growers, but from only a small body, and that at a meeting convened by it in one of the biggest wheat districts, the Government’s proposal for the payment of a bounty on superphosphates was rejected almost unanimously. I am convinced that that body does not represent any considerable section of South Australian wheat-growers.
The honorable member for Barton said that, with a bounty on production, the man who reaped 18 bushels an acre would, receive twice as much as the grower whose crop averaged only 9 bushels to the acre; but the lower-yielding lands of the Mallee are cheaply cultivated. On the dearer lands, cultivation is twice as costly; more superphosphate is used, and the ground has to be fallowed and worked more. Although the yield per acre is twice as great .as in the lighter lands, the cost per bushel is the same. In the Mallee districts twice the area can be cultivated at the same cost, and if the yield per acre is only half that on the more expensive lands, the return on the outlay and a bounty per bushel would work out the same.
Reference has been made to the Farmers Relief Bill in New South Wales. This will help only farmers who are practically insolvent. The purpose is to help men to continue on the land who are efficient, instead of allowing them to be replaced by inefficient nien, as would probably happen under existing circumstances if the present settlers were turned off and put on the dole. Another fact which the honorable member for Barton does not seem to have recognized is that the wheat industry is more than a venture by 65,000 individual farmers; it is a great national industry, and it is a business proposition for the Government to take steps to ensure that the industry is not crushed. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) strongly emphasized the need for increased efficiency by the farmers, and the suggestion has been made by other honorable members that wheat-growing is unprofitable only because farmers are inefficient. The honorable- member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland) last night showed that, during the last three years, the farmers have produced as much wheat as in the previous five years. Despite the fact that farmers have gone in Victoria and New South Wales to the outside areas with lower rainfall, and are cultivating land which a few years ago was regarded as unsuitable for agriculture, the average yield for these ‘States has been maintained. That shows that farming methods in the inside districts have improved, and the maintenance of the average yield for the State, in spite of the low yield in districts only recently cleared, is a clear tribute to the efficiency of the growers.
– Have they not carried too far the opening up of mallee lands?
– In some instances, ye3. Some honorable members have sneered at the well-organized protest of the wheatgrowers. But at least a score of letters and telegrams have reached me during the last couple of days. T have received between SO and 100 letters and telegrams from various parts of New South Wales and elsewhere in Australia, some of which convey the decisions of representative meetings, indicating a unanimous opinion on the part of the farmers that the proposed subsidy on superphosphates was useless, and that a bounty, preferably on wheat for export, was desired. The farmers realize that the payment of a bounty on export wheat would be of more advantage to them than the payment of the money on any other basis as they would receive more than the amount allocated. Many objections have been raised to the proposal for a ! bounty, and I am quite prepared to admit that anomalies will occur under this as well as any other system of distribution that may be adopted. I recognize that last year the farmers in some parts of New South Wales were unable to get their crop in, and that in the northern parts of the State red rust ruined many crops, while in other parts ten, twelve and even thirteen bags to the acre were stripped, but I also know that in these favoured parts the farmers have not had a crop for three years and on the whole the bounty gave satisfaction.
We should deal with this national industry in a national spirit. There should be no discrimination between the States, and no departure from the federal spirit. It has never been suggested that this spirit should be ignored when other industries have been dealt with. We know very well that the tariff applies equally to each manufacturer equally in any industry. When the sugar industry has been under consideration it has never been suggested that the reserve of £6,000,000 of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company should be taken into account. When the steel industry has been under review we have never been asked to pay regard to the £3,000,000 held in reserve by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company. It was not suggested that Lysaght’s large capital should be considered when the proposal for the payment of a bounty of £4 10s. per ton on certain products of that company was being debated, although the amount the company would receive from the bounty was reckoned to be more than the amount they would pay in wage3 in their factory. Although the tariff applies equally to every factory in a particular industry, we know that some factories are efficient, and some are inefficient. There has never been any discrimination between them, and for these reasons I submit that there should be no discrimination in the granting of this money to the wheat industry.
It was suggested by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) that some members of the Country party were fighting for their own ends. I, personally, could get on without a’ bounty. The statement has been made that last year many people received the bounty on a very few bushels of wheat to the acre. Then the honorable member for Barton specially mentioned “ the honorable member for Riverina “, and said something about eighteen bushels to the acre. That is only another illustration of the ignorance and unreliability of the honorable gentleman. The facts are that a hailstorm went right across my property last year and practically destroyed my crop; it certainly did not reach the twelve bushel average yield for the State. I mention this merely because the honorable member made a reference to me.
Although the farmers of Australia are almost unanimously of the opinion that the money allocated by the Government for the assistance of the wheat-growers should be paid as an export bounty, we realize that the Government has considerately listened to what several deputations have had to say on the subject, and has carefully reviewed the whole position. “We are, therefore, prepared to accept the £2,000,000 that has been offered. “We think it better to hold the bone than to chase the shadow. “We recall that various promises have been made to wheat-growers in recent years, and I think it only fair to mention them at this point. Two years ago a certain gentleman in New South “Wales suggested that if he and his party were returned to power the farmers would be paid 7s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat. This gentleman was returned to power, and the farmers actually got ls. Gd. a. bushel for their wheat.
– Lang did not say that he would pay 7s. 6d.
– The words used were - “In 1920 the Labour party promised and paid 7s. 6d. a bushel for wheat. What we did then we can do again”. About the same time the statement was publicly made in the electorate of Calare, in my hearing, that if Labour were returned to power 6s. 6d. a bushel would be paid for the farmer’s wheat. That promise was not honoured. Soon after that time a request was made to the Lang Government for the imposition of a sales tax on flour to provide a bounty, and a promise was made that the proposal would he considered. The flour tax was imposed, but the farmers were not given a penny from it. The money that was received was paid into Consolidated Revenue, and was lent to necessitous farmers, and they were charged 6 per cent, for the accommodation. Then we had the proposal of the Scullin Government for the payment of 4s. a bushel, which failed. Afterwards the proposal for 3s. a bushel for wheat was made, but not realized. On the 12th March, 1930, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), when Prime Minister, said - “ A ballot of wheat-growers is to be taken before the 31st July next to authorize the constitution of these boards for the marketing of wheat.” But that scheme was never implemented. In all the circumstances the members of the Country party feel that “ a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We shall, therefore, accept the £2,000,000 that the Government is offering.
It is proposed that this money shall be distributed to the States on a production basis. This means that even Queensland will get its share, although the farmers of that State have for a number of years been getting 3s. lOd. and 4s. a bushel for their wheat. If any section of wheatgrowers of Australia is in fair circumstances, it is those of Queensland; but I do not begrudge them their proportion of this money, for I believe that the federal spirit should be honoured, and that discrimination between the States and individuals should be avoided. If there is discrimination in the allocation of this £2,000,000, the worst farmers in the community will be helped to the disadvantage of the best. One farmer may make a slave of himself and his wife by running a poultry farm and a dairy farm in conjunction with his wheat farm, and by this means just manage to keep himself out of the financial mire : he would not be classed as needy, while his neighbour on a similar closer settlement block may be extravagant. He may say, “ I will work the same hours as the city man. Eight hours a day is good enough for me. I will not make a slave of my wife.” He will buy a new motor car if he wants one, and can get it on terms, and when the machinery salesman comes along, and persuades him that, unless he disposes of his old machine and buys a new one. also on time payment, that the old one will fail him, and he may lose half his crop, he will spend money which he cannot afford and purchase a new machine. Under the original proposal, such a man would be granted relief in preference to the man who had done his best, at great personal sacrifice, to make ends meet.
I took strong exception to the original proposal of the Government, and I believe, with the Deputy Leader of the Country party (Mr. Paterson), that the money now proposed to be granted to the States should be made available to them unconditionally. Clause 27b of the act provides that the money shall not be allocated to individual farmers on a production basis. That provision should he eliminated, as it may lead to discrimination,’ which is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution; the assistance would then be accepted with far better grace by the farmers of Australia, who would recognize that the Government had confidence in the ability of State Governments to give a fair deal. Those Governments could distribute the money partly on an acreage basis, or for fallow; for railage rebate, or to necessitous cases. Such cases exist, and as the honorable member for Grey (Mr. McBride) pointed out, many crops in South Australia -are affected with red rust, while in New South Wales some have been partly destroyed by hail. Unfortunately, the farmers are not always insured.
If no conditions are provided except those in the Constitution, we can depend on the State Governments treating farmers fairly. It would also dissipate much of the bad feeling engendered by the proposal to subsidize superphosphate companies. The Government might just as well have suggested subsidizing machinery companies or the storekeepers who are carrying the farmers on. If the States allot assistance that enables farmers to put in crops for next year, the main purpose of the bill will be carried out. Had the first conditions of restricting the assistance been continued, a large quantity of our wheat would have been held back, for -farmers are a stubborn crowd, and rather than sell at 2s. 2d. a bushel, they would have allowed their creditors to wait. The accommodation of our silos is limited, and the result would have been disastrous. Bags would have become scarce, probably reaching again the ridiculous price of 14s. 6d. or 17s. 6d. per dozen. Everything would have been chaos and congestion. Our credits overseas would have been reduced, and this added to prevailing low wool prices and the reduction of our meat exports, would have increased exchange rates with the result that the Government would have been adversely affected in transmitting their remittances overseas. It is worth avoiding.
I congratulate the Government on having recognized that it is not sound to pay a bounty with borrowed money. We are told that last year the farmers received 4½d. per bushel, which was provided by the Scullin Government. Actually, only one-fifteenth of that amount has been paid, the remaining fourteen-fifteenths being transferred to posterity to liquidate. That was not sound policy. The banks were not prepared to continue to finance for that purpose. This left only two ways of providing the relief, through the medium of taxation or revenue. I have memories of a deputation” which waited on the Scullin Government asking for a flour sales tax to enable the Government to provide a bounty of 6d. a bushel on wheat. The proposal was turned down. A similar appeal made to the present Government was also rejected. In the circumstances, we are justified in accepting the proposal put forward which, I hope, will be slightly altered as the result of an amendment to be moved when the committee stage is reached.
I am pleased that the super tax on income from property has. been eased. That will give some relief to those with small incomes, and I am hoping that, if conditions improve, the super tax will be eliminated altogether. It is a huge burden on the community, and a bugbear to the banks. Some time ago, when the banks were asked to reduce interest, they pointed out that they could not do so unless they were able to get money more cheaply. The Government was offering 6 per cent, on bonds, and the banks were offering 5^ per cent, and receiving from 6^ per cent to 1 per cent, on overdraft. They undertook to reduce their rates as soon as the Government did so. The Government rate was reduced, and interest came down. Super tax, added to State and Federal taxation, makes the high return from mortgages on rural land just a shade above what is returnable from Commonwealth 4 per .cent, bonds. I know that the Commonwealth Government recognizes the position, and. hope that it will not be long before further interest reductions are brought about. Interest represents almost 40 per cent, of a wheat grower’s aggregate cost, as against from 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, paid by a wool-grower. The sooner a reduction is effected the better it will be for industry and the country generally.
I welcome the reduction in sales tax, including the poison carts, and am pleased ‘ to see that anomalies in connexion with pensions have been removed. The bill is a step in the right direction which will be appreciated by the people of Australia and will have my support.
– This bill expresses the belief of the Government that one of the best contributions that a government can make towards the restoration of prosperity in the community is the reduction of the burden of taxation. “When I regard the present state of affairs, I think of a cart so heavily laden that its springs are flat, with all their resilience lost; incapable, in fact, of acting as springs. When a part of the burden is removed from such a cart the springs gradually regain their original flexibility, and become capable of functioning properly. It appears to me that one of the things best to be done in our present circumstances is to reduce taxation, and thereby help the people to provide and obtain employment.
I have been in communication with representatives of the legal profession in the various States of Australia, and they have made some useful suggestions designed to prevent the provisions of this legislation, which affect charges upon property, imposing an undue burden and creating unnecessary difficulties in connexion with dealings with property generally. Those suggestions have been carefully examined by the Government. It may be convenient to honorable members if I point out shortly the reasons for the amendments which are being made; by clauses 20 to 24 in particular.
Section 52o of the Financial Emergency Act 1932 provides that every pensioner and every claimant shall execute in a prescribed form an undertaking not to transfer or to mortgage any real property or any estate of interest therein except with the consent of the Commissioner. It later sets out that any person who accepts a mortgage or transfer of real property or of any estate or interest therein from a pensioner without the consent in writing of the Commissioner shall be guilty of an offence. Sub-section 5 reads -
Any section or mortgage affected in contravention of this section or in breach of any undertaking given under this section shall be void and of no effect.
It has been pointed out that there might be a pure mistake on the part of a person dealing with a pensioner, and that, through some mere inadvertence, he might enter into a dealing which would be voided by this section. Accordingly, clause 20 of the bill provides that, where the Commissioner is satisfied that the contravention was due to inadvertence, he may give his consent to the dealing, which will then be valid and effective.
It has been further pointed out that. although provision is made in subsequent clauses for the supply of information by the Commissioner as to whether a person is or is not a pensioner, the Commissioner may make a mistake, and, if he did, the dealing would be void, though the fault was that of the Pensions Office. Section 20 also provides for such a contingency.
Proposed new sub-section 52eb provides that persons dealing or proposing to deal in any real property may obtain information from the Commissioner as to whether the other party to the transaction is a pensioner or a claimant of a pension. Proposed sub-section 2 of that section provides that any person shall be entitled to deal with the owner of a property within 21 days of the receipt of such information from the Commissioner. It is intended to insert words to make this clear. If an inquiry is made, as is usually the case when dealing with land, about municipal rates, and the like, and the inquirer is informed that the individual concerned is not a claimant for a pension, he then has 21 days in which to complete the dealing. If he is unable to complete the dealing in 21 days, it is simple enough to make a further inquiry, and get a further 21 days in which to do so. The insertion of the additional words, which will be proposed as an amendment, will make it absolutely clear that this section is an overriding provision in cases where a person acts in good faith on information which he has received from the Commissioner. This amendment deals with quite a number of the objections that have been raised.
I come now to clause 21. It is provided, as I have said, in section 52d of the act, that dealing by pensioners in property requires the consent of the Commissioner in order to be valid. It has been suggested, very greatly to my surprise, that even if the Commissioner gives his consent to a dealing, and it is duly registered, that does not give priority over the Commonwealth charge for any pension paid to the pensioner making the dealing after the commencement of the Financial Emergency Act, 1932. It appeared to me that the position was quite clear under the terms of the section which imposed the charge. That is section 52e 2, which is as follows : -
The amount of any debt due to the Commonwealth in ‘pursuance of this section shall, subject to such encumbrances as are specified in the last preceding sub-section, upon the death of the pensioner be a first charge upon his estate. . . .
If a mortgage has been given, and is registered, then the estate of the pensioner is represented by an equity of redemption, and it is only this equity of redemption that would be charged with the amount of the pension, which is the liability created by sub-section 1 of section 52e. However, there has been doubt in the minds of some people regarding this matter, and it is proposed to amend section 52e 1 by expressly providing that the claim of the Commonwealth shall rank, not only after any encumbrance created after the coming into force of the act in 1932, but also after any encumbrance to which the Commissioner has given his consent. It is proposed to include that provision in direct terms so that there may be no misunderstanding.
Clause 22 adds a new section, 52ea, to the bill. Representations have been made to the Government with respect to various cases of hardship which may arise in relation to charges on pensioners’ property. These representations fall into several classes, but they may all fairly be included in the categories with which this amendment deals. One such case was brought under my notice from my own constituency. A mother is in receipt of an invalid pension, and is living in her own home. Her daughter has practically sacrificed her life in order to nurse and look after the mother. It is expected that the daughter will eventually get the home. It is suggested that it would be a harsh thing for the Commonwealth, in this and similar cases, to impose, even in the interests of the community as a whole, a charge that would deprive the daughter of a part, or the whole, of her interest in the family home. Such cases are not quite so easy to deal with as might appear at first glance. It must be remembered that, at the present moment, the daughter has no rights at all, but only an expectation of benefit from a will which the mother is entitled to alter at any time. “We are all familiar with cases in which children have been disappointed by the manner in which their parents have exercised their testamentary powers. Where there are no rights, it is not possible to give protection for rights, but some provision ought to be made to protect the interests of children in proper cases. The situation might be dealt with in one of two ways. If the mother were prepared to transfer the property to her daughter, the Government could direct the Deputy Commissioner to consent to the transfer. A direction has been already given which will cover such a case. It may be; however, that the mother is not prepared to put the property out of her control, and the amendment provided in this clause empowers the Commissioner in such cases to exempt, either in whole or in part, the property from charges arising out of the payment of a pension to the owner, if the enforcement of the claim would result in hardship to any person - not merely hardship to the pensioner. Directions are being prepared, and will, I hope, be put into complete form as experience indicates, in order to remove any risk of injustice under these provisions.
Another class ofcase is that in which the children have done more than assist their parents from time to time. The normal parent brings up his children, and maintains them during infancy and adolescence, and the least that children can do, when the occasion arises, is to help their parents. It is hardly to he thought, I suggest, that the children, simply on account of their recognition and discharge of filial affection, should be given proprietary rights over the property of the parents. If it were thought proper that parents should he compelled to leave their property to their children, that would he a matter for legislation by the States. But there are other cases, such as hate been mentioned by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), where the children have provided a home for their parents and have, or are paying, for it, probably through a building society, the title of the property being in the name of the parent, and they have done that in the confident expectation that the property would be left to them by will. In such cases, if there were an agreement for a mortgage to protect the advances on the property, there would be no difficulty in obtaining the consent of the Commissioner to the registration of such a mortgage, but in other cases there might be a general understanding which the parties would not he prepared to embody in legal form. If, however, they were prepared to embody it in legal form, and the parents were willing to execute a mortgage, or to transfer in favour of the son or other children who had provided the home, the Commissioner, on being satisfied on those facts, would under the directions given to him, give his consent.
– Would that be conditioned by hardship ?
– No ; by considerations of. justice, if the facts are established. That relates to a different clause trader which the Commissioner is entitled to give his consent. I come to the other method - proposed under section 52ea - of dealing with such a case. If the children had paid for the home and the pensioner died, and the interests of the children were entirely unprotected, then unless they were wealthy, when there would be no reason for any action on their part, this provision could be applied, because a hardship would be inflicted on the children if the charge of the Commonwealth were given priority over their interests. This proposed new section will deal with a case of that description.
– Even without a mortgage on the property.
– Yes, by exemption by the Commissioner after death. If people desire to deal with their property in their lifetime, they must observe methods prescribed by the law of the States under which property can be disposed of. There is a difficulty about some of these matters, because as honorable members will recognize, so many people want to have it both ways. They want to have complete control of their own property, complete powers of disposition, and yet want to be sure that their children will get it; but they are not prepared to transfer it to them. This proposed new section, I submit, does make adequate provision for all the cases which have been mentioned.
I come now to the proposed new section 52eb., to which I have already incidentally referred. This section reproduces in substance a regulation which was issued almost immediately after the act was passed entitling a person to make inquiries to ascertain whether or not another person was a pensioner before he dealt in property. I have called attention to the fact that any person to whom information has been given by the Deputy Commissioner shall be entitled to deal, within 21 days of the date upon which the information was given, with the owner of the property, upon the basis that the information supplied by the
Deputy Commissioner was correct. One point I wish to mention in connexion with the matter is this. Complaints have been made that in order to ascertain relevant facts, it will be necessary for legal practitioners or other persons to make inquiries from all the capital cities of Australia to ascertain whether a person was a pensioner or not before he dealt in property. As a matter of fact that difficulty was foreseen when the act was drafted, and although it was provided that inquiries were to be made from- the Commissioner, and information supplied by him, a special provision was put in the bill - section 34a, I think - under which the Commissioner was authorized to delegate his powers and functions to the Deputy Commissioners. Under the regulation which was issued, the various Deputy Commissioners were authorized and required to give information as -/.> whether any person residing in a State was a pensioner or not. Under the regulation, it was necessary to make inquiries only at the office of the Deputy Commissioner in one capital city, and that has been made quite plain in the bill.
It is not necessary for me to say much about clause 23, which provides that the Commonwealth may accept a transfer from a pensioner or claimant, of any property, and when that is done, the value of such property shall not be taken into account in determining the amount of the pension. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) read this provision as if it compelled the pensioner or claimant to transfer his property. Of course the slightest reference to the words of this provision will show that that is not the case. It is intended to deal more particularly with cases that have been mentioned from time to time in the House, where it is said that certain property, which is valued at a substantial amount for the purpose of determining the pension to which the owner is entitled, is, in fact, worth nothing, and perhaps is a liability. This proposed new section deals with any instances in which the pensioner says that his property which - to use a phrase which has become current - is held against him in respect of his pension, is worth nothing. If he wishes, he will now be able to transfer it to the Commonwealth, so as to prevent the property from being held against him.
– What will be the position if the pensioner says that the property is worth half the value placed upon it by the department?
– I shall come to that. It is not proposed to accept properties which are liabilities, and that is why the phrase “which is not subject to encumbrance” is inserted in the bill; otherwise the Commonwealth might be saddled with liabilities. Honorable members will recognize that it is not reasonable to expect that to be done.
– Would “ encumbrance” include statutory charges like rates?
– Yes. The matter of statutory charges has always been difficult to define. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has asked what will be the position if a pensioner says that his property is worth only half the value placed upon it by the department? There is no means of determining that, except by instructing the Commissioner to act fairly. The value of a property is reviewed from time to time, and I am certain that the officials of the department try to do their duty by the pensioners. Such matters cannot be dealt with by legislation; they must be left to administration. Since these cases have been before the House, very explicit directions have been given to the officers to review the values of properties as they come up in the normal course of administration., and to deal sympathetically with the representations made by old-age pensioners as to the value of their holdings. It is recognized that it would be unreasonable to ask an old-age pensioner who has an allotment of land to produce a sworn valuation which may cost a guinea or more. But the officers have been asked to review the valuations fairly and sympathetically.
– What valuation is accepted
– In every case the first valuation accepted is that of the pensioner, and the department has found that in many instances the value of which complaint is made, is that which the pensioner has put on the property, and as to which ho has made no further representations to the office. The act provides that the municipal valuation shall he prima facie the value, and most pensioners submit that. Probably most honorable members, if asked to value a property, would submit the municipal rate notice as prima facie evidence of value. But directions have been given to the officers that the valuations are to be on a real, and not an unreal, basis. The proposed amendment will help to overcome some of the difficulties which have arisen.
The honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) referred to the statutory charges. These constitute a difficult problem. Objection has been raised to this legislation because it imposes a statutory charge which has priority over other encumbrances. It may be unfortunate - indeed, from the point of view of one who practised law in simpler days, it is unfortunate - but the States have gone far in legislation of this character. Municipal rates, water rates, wire-netting advances, special irrigation rates, and advances under farmers’ relief schemes, have been made statutory charges taking priority over other encumbrances. Only recently I had before me the facts of a case in which the water rates that took priority over a mortgage amounted to £17,000. This liability had grown from year to year beyond all anticipations. The suggestion has been made that we should provide for registering on the title the charges created under this legislation. Those who have made that suggestion have not fully acquainted themselves with the legal position. Section 20 of the Commonwealth Lands Acquisition Act provides that when the Commonwealth acquires a statutory title to land by virtue of the provisions of that act, an official notification shall be given to the Registrar of Titles of a State, who shall register such title. But in the v.::se of New South Wales v. Commonwealth, 33 C.L.R. 1, the High Court held that that provision was invalid, and laid down the principle that the Commonwealth Parliament had no power to direct those who were in control of a State land title registration system as to the registration of an interest which was not created in the manner prescribed by the State Transfer of Land Act or Real Property
Act. Accordingly, if this Parliament were to legislate to provide that this or any other charges, including those under the Land Tax Assessment Act, should be registered by the State, such legislation would be invalid. Further, if the matter is examined, it will be found that such legislation would not be as valuable in practice as some people are inclined to think.
Another matter raised in this debate relates to the position which would be created if a transfer which was void under section 52d, were, nevertheless, in fact, registered, and if some person then dealt with the transferee upon the faith of the title. Those who have raised this point appear to have forgotten the case, Gibbs v. Messer, 1891 Appeal Cases, 248. in which the court determined that a person dealing with the transferee in such cases upon the faith of the register obtained a good title. The new provisions in this bill dispose of any doubt as to the ability of the original transferee to give a good title.
– Will the Commissioner have power to dispose of these properties ?
– He will be able to dispose of properties transferred to him, and also to impose a charge upon property.
– What will be the position of contracts of sale?
– Some contracts of sale were made for long terms before the present pensions law was passed, and directions have been given to the Commissioner that he is to consent to dealings arising out of such contracts. When referring to section 52d, I dealt with hardship, but omitted to call attention to important words which provide for a large class of cases. A person lends money to another individual who is m a sound, and, possibly, prosperous financial position; no one anticipates that he will ever become a pensioner. Through some subsequent disaster, however, he becomes an invalid or old-age pensioner, and when he dies, the amount paid to him in pension becomes a charge having priority over the mortgage. That case is covered, also, by proposed new section 52ba, to which I have referred. Under it the Commissioner is given power to exempt any property from the charge, not only on the ground of hardship, but also where there has been any serious change in the financial position of the pensioner. It is intended to deal with all such cases in such a manner that ordinary business transactions may not be prejudiced by this legislation.
I think I have dealt with everything except clause 24, which seeks to amend section 52l by providing that any person having the receipt, control or disposal of any money or other property of a pensioner shall not be subject to any liability under paragraph c if he has inquired of the Commissioner whether the person on whose behalf he holds the money or property i3 a pensioner, and has been informed that such person is not a pensioner. Under paragraph c of section 52l he is made personally responsible for the satisfaction of any such charge or liability out of any such money or other property of which he has the receipt, control or disposal.
Difficulties have been mentioned as arising under this section. Some appear to me to be unfounded. It is suggested, for example, that tradesmen and bankers will be unable to pay money to old-age pensioners. On that point, I need only mention the case Foley v. Hill, 2 H.L.C., which shows that the relation between banker and customer is the relation of creditor and debtor, and not of trustee, to convince all lawyers that there is no foundation for that particular objection. However, it is proposed to alter the section in order to remove any uncertainty that may exist as to its meaning. Accordingly, an amendment will be introduced in much simpler terms than those now appearing in section 24. Under it the liability of the person in control of property or money belonging to a pensioner, and applying that money in satisfaction of any claim under this act, will arise only after notice has been given to him by the Commissioner. The section will not be quite as effective as it would otherwise have been from the strictly official point of view; but the absence of interference with business and ordinary transactions is so important that the Government has no hesitation in proposing the alteration, which will meet difficulties that may arise under section 52l, some of which are, as I have said, real and some unreal.
– Will the transfer of land to the Commissioner be a discharge of the liability with respect to rates?
– I should not like to say, without looking up authorities; but, answering the -honorable member offhand, I think not. I have tried to deal with the legal questions that have arisen. It is the desire of the Government in what it regards as the interests of the community as a whole, and ultimately of the pensioners themselves, to establish this principle of contribution from property after the death of a pensioner where such a contribution can justly be required. It is at the same time also the object of the Government to do nothing that may cause hardship or injustice to pensioners or other people, or that may affect the security of titles. I have had a number of communications on this subject from various persons interested, and also from members of the legal profession. I draw a distinction between objections to the policy of the act and legal objections from the point of view of conveyancers. The policy of the act is a matter for the determination of this Parliament. So also are any matters affecting conveyancers; but there is this consideration to be borne in mind : This legislation has been drafted with a full appreciation of the fact that unless the law is framed in a really effective form, a technique will quickly be developed, with the assistance of my friends and fellow-members of the legal profession, which will destroy all possibility of the Commonwealth ever getting anything out of any charge. If this measure had been drafted so as to give priority to what people describe, in general terms, as bona fide dealings, I would undertake, as a lawyer, to say that it would be difficult for the Commonwealth, representing the general community, to get anything.
These are the considerations which the Government has had in mind in framing this legislation. Any one with a knowledge of the history of real property law is aware that it is largely a story of conflict between Parliament and conveyancers. Parliaments make the laws, and conveyancers find a way round it.
Parliament declares that property shall he dealt with in a certain way and subject to certain conditions, and immediately those concerned consult with the lawyers in order to find a way to circumvent the law. Personally, I have derived advantage on quite a number of occasions from this admirable habit of the community and this practice of Parliament. But as a Parliament we have to see that a policy is fair and just - as to which there is, of course, a difference of opinion - and to consider the means to be adopted to give effect to a policy. This legislation has been drafted to give effect to a policy which many people do not like and which many people are prepared to resist by all legal and political methods available to them. The Government recognizes this, but considers that the policy is sound, and that it is necessary.
I conclude with the assurance that if further experience shows that other amendments concerning the general policy of the measure in relation to this aspect of it are required in order to avoid insecurity of titles, the Government will give the matter the most careful and earnest consideration.
.- This bill is really in four parts. It provides relief from land and income taxation to certain wealthy persons and vested interests in Australia; it gives relief in respect of certain articles under the Sales Tax Act; it gives extremely restricted relief to invalid and old-age pensioners, and a measure of relief to wheat-growers and primary producers. The amount involved aggregates £4,000,000. We, on this side of the House, welcome any assistance which can be given to our pensioners, but our complaint is that the relief proposed to be given is not in ratio to the burden which has been placed upon them, and is insignificant when compared with the relief given to wealthy financial institutions and persons. This bill shows every evidence of class bias. It definitely provides for the granting of relief to the wealthy classes of this community who are least entitled to it. I refer, of course, to those who will be helped by the remission of land and income taxation.
I welcome the granting of relief to necessitous farmers. But those who will be the principal beneficiaries under this measure are undoubtedly the wealthy land-owners, shipping companies, the banking and insurance institutions and other financial corporations, which control the policy of the United Australia Party, and make large contributions to the funds of the parties represented on the other side of the House. These interests, naturally, expect a quid pro quo when their parties are successful at the poll3. [Quorum formed.’] That a rake-off should be made possible to these interests, although nothing is done to relieve the unemployed, is deplorable in the extreme. Our unfortunate pensioners were subjected to drastic cuts in their pensions solely on the ground that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. Two months ago, in this House, the Prime Minister, in his second attempt to make a budget speech, quoted figures to show that Australia was probably quite bankrupt, and having done so he introduced the draconian legislation known as the Financial Emergency Act, which inflicted hardship, humiliation, indignity, and intense mental distress upon the old people of this country to such an extent that many of them who are justly entitled to a pension have since decided to forgo their rights in that regard. I know that it has been said by certain newspapers that the people who have sacrificed their pensions have done so because of the fear that they may be called upon to answer for having claimed and received pensions to which they were not entitled. But I have personal knowledge of many cases that prove that this is not so. I instance one old couple at Broken Hil], who have been known to me for a number of years. These old people decided to forgo their pension rather than take the risk of causing hardship to their children, or possibly provoking family quarrels.
The drastic cuts in pensions, and in Public Service salaries and wages should have been restored before heavy remissions were made in taxation. The financial position of the country is infinitely better now than it was in 1930 when the Scullin Government was faced with a probable deficit of £22,000,000. Although the Prime Minister drew such a doleful picture of the outlook of Australia when he introduced the Financial Emergency Bill two months ago, he now finds himself with a sufficiently improved revenue to make possible the restitution of the cuts made under the financial emergency legislation, but in preference to making such restitution he has seen fit to grant substantial benefits to people who are justly liable and able to pay land and income taxation. This measure will not be of any advantage to the deserving producers of this country. The man who is “ sitting down “ on a large area of land is protected by an exemption of £5,000 under our land tax legislation, and does not contribute much in the form of land tax. The bill does not afford much relief to the man who is producing wool, wheat, and meat on our pastoral and agricultural areas. As the. greater proportion of land taxation is obtained from the owners of city properties, practically all the land taxation collected is paid by those controlling warehouses, banks, financial institutions, large retail establishments, and factories, and not by those producing primary wealth. The measure does not afford any relief to those who actually need assistance. Provision is made for certain remissions of taxation imposed under the Sales Tax Acts passed during a period of national emergency, hut our land tax acts were not passed for emergency purposes. Land tax acts have been in operation for many years a-nd, so far as the Labour party is concerned, they will continue to operate. Personally, I welcome any relief in taxation imposed upon those commodities which are so essential to the workers of this country. But relief in the matter of land tax should not be afforded until the full pension rates have been restored and public servants are receiving the salaries which were in force before any reductions were made. The pensioners and public servants had to submit to reductions during a financial crisis, but, as our national revenue has increased considerably, that crisis must have passed. If it had not passed, these remissions of taxation could not be made. Honorable members on this side of the chamber welcome the very modest contribution which the Government proposes to make to the invalid and old-age pen sioners ; but I can assure the Government that the small measure of relief which is being afforded will not protect it from the wrath of the electors when it next appeals to the people. There has been unfair discrimination between those unfortunate persons who are living from hand to mouth, and those controlling the big undertakings such as I have mentioned, who, during the financial crisis, have not. made the slightest sacrifice. Perhaps some individuals have disposed of one of a fleet of motor cars, but they have not been affected unless it has been by their capital being reduced from £100,000 to £50,000. If they have had to submit to such a reduction, they have not suffered any personal inconvenience ; they have not made any real sacrifice. These are the persons who are being coddled by this Government. It is only the wealthy who are being given relief in the matter of land and income taxation. The invalid and old-age pensioner must still face adversity, and endeavour to make ends meet from his meagre resources. The Government should overlook the wealthy section, and give a little more consideration to the workers of this country. Every piece of legislation introduced by the Lyons Government savours of class bias. Such legislation ha3 been passed with the object of greasing the “ fat pig “. When it has not been passed with that object, it has been for the purpose of taking away something from the workers or the pensioners. This Government will always be regarded as one controlled entirely by a small, but wealthy, section. Honorable members opposite have said that the members of the Opposition are bitter in their denunciation of the Government, and that, in discussing the legislation brought before this chamber, their language has been immoderate. When we review the legislation passed by this Government, there is no language which I am permitted to use sufficiently strong to adequately describe how such legislation affects a majority of the Australian people. It is because of that that the members of the Opposition will continue to oppose the measures which the Government bring down. This is a piebald piece of legislation, in that it affords relief in directions where it is not needed, and makes inadequate provision to assist those in distress. [Quorum formed.] Clause 27 provides that -
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; and
providing for the needs of individual wheat-growers, but not upon the basis of the quantity of wheat produced by individual wheat-growers.
Frankly, I do not understand what that means; nor will the State Governments understand it unless its meaning is elucidated by regulations. The Commonwealth Government has not indicated what methods are to beemployed to reduce the cost of production of wheat. Does it intend that a subsidy of so much a week shall be made available to wheatfarmers, or that some allowance shall be made for each employee in their service, or that a subsidy shall be paid on every ton of fertilizer that farmers use? Again, is the whole or part of the money to be made available to the Railways Commissioners of the different States if they will reduce freights on wheat, say, by 50 per cent?
My colleagues and I welcome any contribution towards the assistance of wheatgrowers, particularly those in necessitous circumstances. This Government has had ample opportunity to assist those persons. I reiterate, however, that, in addition to necessitous wheat-farmers and settlers, there is a vast body of men and women numbering almost 400,000, to whom not one reference is made in this bill. I mean the unemployed.
In a legal dissertation, the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) has said that the Government believed that this bill to reduce taxation was the best contribution that could be devised at the present time, but members of the Opposition believe that a better contribution would be to increase wages. We believe that the time has arrived when the policy of reducing wages should be discontinued, and the rates of 1929 restored. Honorable members will recollect that when the Arbitration Court made a drastic cut of 10 per cent. in wages it was claimed that that would create employment, re-start the wheels of industry, and restore prosperity. But the judges of the court, and many of our business people, have realized too late that no reduction of wages can assist in rehabilitating a country.
The Attorney-General told us a kind of parable. He said that he was reminded of a heavily-laden cart, the springs of which were so flat that they were incapable of functioning properly. He visualized burden after burden being removed from the cart until the springs again become resilient. The symbolism of the honorable gentleman is imperfect. Instead of taking the load off the cart or dray - a vehicle which symbolizes hard work, pioneering, privation and poverty - the Government is taking the weight off the limousine, and allowing the dray to continue to carry its tremendous burden in this time of crisis. The Government is implementing the policy of the money lords and vested interests of the country, and giving no consideration to the common people. Its legislation is designed to benefit the chosen few, the wealthy bankers, shippers, and great land-owners, who have had only to ask in order to receive.
– I regret that the Government has seen fit to embody so many divergent provisions in this measure. That has rendered it extremely difficult for honorable members to give each subject impartial consideration, and to register their votes upon individual items. We have to vote upon all these proposals or none at all. There is a tendency in the Government to follow this practice. I visualize the time when it will introduce one bill to give effect to all of the proposals embodied in its policy speech, with the result that the Opposition as well as its supporters will have to vote for the measure.
I should like to oppose the Government’s wheat bounty proposals, but cannot do so because I approve of the reductions in land tax. I do not altogether agree with the attitude taken up by the Government with regard to invalid and old-age pensioners, who, I think, should be more liberally treated. But I shall have to support that section of the bill, otherwise I shall have to oppose the reductions of land tax. I congratulate the Government on its clever political manoeuvring, which disposes of any idea that it is young in chicanery.
The proposals to afford relief to wheatgrowers have been thoroughly thrashed out by honorable members, particularly those who belong to the Country party, and I am unable to add .much to the debate in that respect. While admitting its financial difficulties, I cannot avoid the conclusion that the Government has fallen down on its job. It has withheld assistance for so long that it is almost impossible to obtain any clear and definite scheme from either the wheat-growers themselves or their representative organizations. The season’s wheat is now being disposed of, and those who represent wheat-growers in this House are driven to the acceptance of anything, rather than run the risk of losing whatever assistance is offered. I take exception to the Government’s lack of courage, which is evidenced by its failure to adhere to the fm,ni of assistance that it proposed to give, in keeping with that given last year by the previous Government. It is not my function to pay a tribute to that Government, which is now a thing of the past; but we are justified in comparing its attitude towards the wheat-growers, at a time of very great financial difficulty, with that, of the present Government under financial conditions that are vastly improved. In my opinion, this Government in handing the whole proposition over to the States, and washing its hands of any responsibility for the distribution of the money, apart from laying down a very vague condition, is shirking its duty.-
– It is following the line of least resistance.
– It is also storing up a good deal of trouble for, and inviting opposition to and criticism of, the State Governments that will have the handling of the money. Its reputation for political tactics, if not for statesmanlike ability, has certainly been enhanced. Every honorable member who is acquainted with the position of this country must recognize, as 1 do, the financial difficulties of the Government. We know very well that it cannot, by the waving of a fairy wand, produce an unlimited amount of money for the assistance of any industry, not even the great wheat-growing industry; but. I think that we are entitled to claim that, as the wheat industry is undoubtedly of outstanding importance to Australia’s export trade, and to the preservation of the rehabilitated credit that we have won, the Government should have concentrated to a greater extent upon the problem presented by the position in which the industry is placed this year. Many honorable members who support the Government appear to have been carried away by the success that accompanied the granting of last year’s bounty. That money was raised and distributed without, a hitch, and gave considerable satisfaction to wheat-growers throughout Australia. But the last season was a comparatively successful one, which fact, to a large extent, assisted to rehabilitate many wheatgrowers who, in the previous year, were practically “ on the rocks “. Honorable members are suffering from a delusion if they believe that the real trials and problems of the wheat-growers have passed ; they have not analysed the position that has to be faced this year, nor made any allowance for’ the vastly different circumstances that exist today, and to which honorable members of the Country party have drawn attention. I doubt very much if the position could be more clearly or more fairly described than it was by the honorable members for Echuca (Mr. Hill) and Riverina (Mr. Nock), who are recognized authorities in connexion with the problems of the wheatgrowers. Even Ministers have admitted that these primary producers are receiving about 9d. a bushel less this year than they obtained Inst year; also, that the export situation is not nearly so satisfactory - by which I mean that there is no certainty that the price will not drop still lower. Therefore, if last year there was justification for a bounty, there is much more justification this year. I believe that the Government could have repeated last year’s bounty of 4½d. a bushel, without making the country bankrupt, or exhausting what remains of its resources of statesmanship. I know that it has been said that the banks flatly refused to provide the Government with any more loan money for the purpose of a bounty on wheat. Surely, however, that was not the last word that could be said. If the previous Government was able to extract from the banks a loan of £3,500,000 when the position was not nearly so good as it is to-day, this Government could have obtained an additional amount had it set itself the task of breaking down the opposition to such a proposal. [Quorum formed.]
It is a pity that the Government continued the debate after it became aware that many members had left Canberra. -It is hardly fair to those who have remained to expect them to help it out <of its difficulties by keeping a house.
There was every justification for the “Government refusing to accept from the banks any ultimatum regarding a loan for distribution among the wheatgrowers this year, especially when it was known that the revenue position had improved to such an extent that at least two-thirds of the amount required for a bounty was available without recourse to such action. Seeing that the wheat position had become considerably worse, it surely would have been an eminently fair proposition to ask the banks to make available, for this year at all events, the sum of £.1,000,000, or perhaps even £2,000,000. Such a loan could have been amortized over a period, as was done with the loan raised last year. I believe that, had the Government pressed the matter very strongly, and urged on the banks the vital necessity of carrying the wheat industry for this year, those institutions would not have been so recalcitrant as they have been made to appear. However, the Government apparently did not favour that course; consequently, we must accept the position as we find it. The Government having decided that no loan money should bp made available, the representatives of the wheat-growers in the Country party were justified in urging their suggestion that there should bc a sales tax on flour.
Whatever objections can be raised to the proposal to ask the banks for an. extra £1,000,000 or so for the benefit of the growers this year, there can be no reasonable objection to the imposition of a small sales tax on flour. Most of us remember the speeches delivered by certain honorable members, some of whom arc now members of the Government, in support of such a tax. They suggested it as the logical alternative to the Scullin Government’s plan to borrow money with which to pay a bounty, and the pro- posal was not only supported by members of the Country party, but also found favour among members of the present ministerial party. To-day, however, members of the Government see insuperable difficulties in the way of a sales tax. We can see none. It is merely a matter of the will to do. The amount to bc raised by sales tax would be small, seeing that the Government would be starting off with a nest egg of £2,000,000 from revenue. If a bountry of 4£d. a bushel were paid on production, or Gd. a bushel on export, I believe that no objection would be raised by the people of Australia to the imposition of a sales tax of £2 a ton on flour for one year. Last year, this proposal was considered to be a reasonable one, particularly by the present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham). Members of the Country party are astounded that the honorable member should now be so cold about it. Members of the Country party cheered the Attorney-General when, last year, he proved that even a big sales tax would be quite practicable. We are still in favour of the tax, but the AttorneyGeneral has lost his enthusiasm.
If the Government had not found itself in possession of £2,000,000 extra revenue, the wheat-growers would probably not have received a penny in the way of assistance. The Government has not indicated what it would have done to assist them if it had not had at its disposal this unexpected revenue. Nevertheless, it: would have to face the position. The same amount of pressure would have been brought to bear on it, not only inside the House, but outside as well. It would have had to decide whether it would approach the banks for a large advance, or live up to its protestations when in opposition, and impose a sales tax. The Government, by a miracle, lias been spared the embarrassment of making a decision, but in spite of that fact, it has not shown any serious desire to meet the wishes of the Country party that a useful bounty should be paid this season.
As a representative of thousands of wheat-growers, I have received letters and telegrams from organizations in -my electorate, and without exception they all state that they favour a repetition of last year’s bounty of 4£d. a bushel. Various proposals have been put forward, but all are agreed that a bounty of at least 4Jd. should be paid. The Government was acquainted with the wishes of the wheat-growers, and was made aware that the Country party was pre.pared to support it solidly in anything it did to meet, those wishes. Nevertheless, the Government sat back, saying that it had £2,000,000 to devote towards assisting the growers, and that it would not provide any more. Although we are accepting this assistance - we should be foolish if we did not - we are doing so in a spirit of disillusionment. We do not regard it as sufficient, seeing that the growers are receiving less by 9d. a bushel for their wheat than they obtained last year. We believe that the Government could have done mere. The financial position of the Commonwealth has undoubtedly improved since last year, while that of the wheat-growers has become definitely worse. When the bounty was granted last yeal-, a general election was approaching, and all parties were agreed that some assistance should be granted to the wheatgrowers. The arguments that bounties were iniquitous, and should not. be continued, found no favour with honorable members at that time. They had to face the people, and justify themselves in the eyes of the wheat-growers. The growers appreciated the help which they received from the Government. It has been stated by the Commonwealth Statistician that the area under wheat has been increased by 18 per cent, this season, and we can claim that, this increase is directly due to the stimulating effect of the bounty paid last year. That proves that it is good business for the Government to stand behind the wheat-growers in their hour of need. It is necessary that the wheatgrowers should, continue to produce and export their product, so that we may establish credits for ourselves overseas. Everybody admits that the wheat-growers should be assisted ; the difference of opinion is over the amount which they should receive. I believe that it is the duty of Parliament to put all difficulties on one side and say that, as this is perhaps the most critical year the wheat industry has had to face, we should assist it to the full extent of our power this season, and let the future take care of itself.
That is my opinion as a representative of wheat-growers, and I think that it is also the opinion of most thinking people throughout Australia. We hear much in this House of the ill effects of paying a bounty to the wheat-growers, but there is no protest against the proposal outside. Parliament. The manufacturers do no? object - of course it would not be logical for them to do so, seeing that they themselves receive so much assistance - and there is no other objection from other sections of the community either.
– The wheat-farmers object to other sections of the community obtaining relief.
– Only when it is given at their expense. That the public of Australia has never protested against assistance being granted to the wheatgrowers disposes of the objections raised from time to time against bounties and other forms of assistance. Even if the granting of assistance to the wheatgrowing industry were to bring the country almost to the verge of bankruptcy, the public of Australia would not raise any serious objection so long as the industry was really helped. The Government runs no risk in offering assistance to this industry.
I hope that the Government will accept the amendments which will be moved by members of the Country party in order to clear up a position which at present is obscure. The money is to be paid to the States; but so far there is no agreement as to whether it shall be distributed by the States to necessitous farmers only, or as the State Governments think best. It has been suggested that they may reduce railway freights on wheat, and we are told, through the press, that that proposal does not meet with the approval of the Commonwealth, because it amounts to a bounty on production, which, for some reason that has never been satisfactorily explained to me, the Commonwealth objects to. When the party now in office was in opposition last year, it offered no objection to a bounty on production. What is the reason for its objection to-day?
– The banks will not allow a bounty to be paid on production.
– I do not think that that is the reason. In my opinion, there is nothing unsound in granting a bounty on production. If conditions are to attach to the grants, and the States are to be precluded from assisting big wheat-growers, the assistance given will be of no real benefit to the wheat-growing industry. The States will not know what to do with the money, and will have to ask this Parliament how it is to be distributed by them. I suggest that before the bill leaves this House, the position as to the responsibility of the States in relation to the distribution of this money should bo made clear. My own opinion is that if there is no possibility of a bounty, to be provided by a sales tax on flour, the States should be given a free hand. I have been in consultation with State Ministers in New South Wales, who have told me that they are absolutely in the dark as to what is expected of them. If the Government hands the money to the States unconditionally, they will probably formulate schemes of their own ; but they object to having to accept the blame for what may happen under a policy of which they may not approve. It is not fair to expect the States to “ carry the baby “ if anything goes wrong.
– The honorable member seems to have put some ideas into their heads.
– No. I assure the right honorable gentleman that State Ministers in New South Wales fear for the success of the scheme if they are to be bound by conditions. Before committing the error of tying the hands of the States, further consideration should be given to this matter. Why not eliminate all conditions, hand the money to the States, and trust them to do the job properly? If they want to reduce freights, let them do so; if they prefer to grant a bounty of their own, let them be free to act in that way. I suggest that by giving the States a free hand, the Commonwealth will gain more than under the proposal contained in this bill.
I congratulate the Government on its proposals in relation to land tax. I have recently been in my electorate, and even those land-owners there who are not likely to benefit much, warmly approve of the Government’s proposal, rationally, I think. They regard it as the beginning of the end of the federal land tax. Otherwise the Government’s proposal means little to them. Land tax is the heaviest burden which the land-owners have to carry. I listened attentively to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) who proved to his own satisfaction that the federal land tax is a burden which falls only on big land-owners whose estates are worth £100,000 or more, and on big propertyowners in the capital cities. If the right honorable gentleman were to move about the country, and discuss this matter with land-owners who are practically bankrupt, he would discover that the £20 or so that they have to pay each year as land tax on their small holdings is regarded by them as the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
– If they are nearly bankrupt, they can obtain relief under section 66.
– Some of them do, but not all of them. In some cases it is not so easy to obtain relief as has been suggested. The Government’s proposal to enlarge the powers of the Hardship Board is the best feature of this bill. I believe that it will be more acceptable to the man on the land than the actual remission of the land tax itself. It may be that the proposal goes too far, because actually it empowers the board to abolish the land tax altogether so far as rural holdings are concerned. It is only necessary for .a wheatgrower to prove that he cannot pay his way for him to be relieved of all land tax under this bill. By its amendment of section 66 the Government has gone a long way towards the abolition of the federal land tax. Originally I favoured that tax ; but I have since come to the conclusion that the passing of the legislation authorizing it was one of the greatest political errors ever committed by this Parliament. The tax has totally failed to break up big estates. It has been merely a tax on capital; it is one of the most confiscatory taxes ever imposed on the man on the land. Because two-thirds of the amount derived from this tax is paid in respect of city and urban properties - the amount from those sources being about £2,000,000 per annum - it is argued that the tax imposes no real burden on the rural community. That does not affect the vital principle underlying the tax. Is it proper for the Commonwealth Parliament to entrench upon the natural and legitimate taxation spheres of the States? It has crept into practically every one of these to such an extent that it is becoming impossible for the States to remain solvent. It is even competing with the States in the field of entertainments. Land taxation does not rightly belong to the Commonwealth. To-day land is being levied on purely for revenue purposes. It is a form of confiscation of the dwindling wealth of the man on the land, and is probably one of the greatest factors in reducing production in Australia. The logical thing for the Commonwealth to do is to abandon its land tax and allow the States to impose it if they wish. Most of the States have already land tax. New South Wales is the only State that has not a straight-out land tax; it leaves the collection of the tax really to its local governing bodies. In the other States the man on the land is faced with Commonwealth, State and local government land taxation. He is certainly getting a fair issue of that class of taxation. Every year the States are depending more and more upon the Commonwealth to make up the leeway in their accounts caused by the Commonwealth’s entry into the taxation spheres of the States. Recently this Parliament made a grant of £1,800,000 to three States. Had those States the opportunity to levy the land tax which is now imposed by the Commonwealth, there would probably have been no need for them to ask the Commonwealth for assistance, and the money that was paid to them could have been used in paying off the interest on our war debt, or in maintaining old-age and invalid pensions at their former standard. Unimproved land taxation, being mainly urban taxation, is naturally a State tax, and the States should have the right to appropriate whatever amount they think necessary to meet their commitments by making a levy upon unimproved land values in the capital cities. It is not the province of the Commonwealth to scoop the cream of taxation ; that ‘ should be left entirely to the States. When this
Government brings forward a proposal to abolish the land tax altogether and to leave it in the hands of the States, I shall not hesitate to support it.
The Government’s proposals in respect of pensions have been thoroughly debated. They deal only with certain amendments. The fact that these amendments have been brought down so soon after the principal act was passed, proves that much of the criticism levelled at this Government’s policy of revolutionizing the system of pensions administration was justified. I venture to predict that this will not be the only amending bill, and that every session we shall be asked to pass amendments rectifying anomalies which have crept into the administration as a result of the operation of the Financial Emergency Act. The pension department is to-day in a state of chaos. The Deputy Commissioners are unable to cope with the new situation that has arisen, and I venture to say that if honorable members could obtain the private opinions of those officials they would realize that what I am saying is no exaggeration of the position. I do not think that the pensions legislation, as it’ is now framed, is workable, and I am satisfied that we shall have to revert largely to the system that was in operation before the Government adopted its unfortunate policy of converting pensions from a right to an act of charity. I do not deny that some pensioners impose upon the generosity of the country, but I am satisfied that the great mass of pension claims are genuine, and that if we could probe into the majority of them we should find that their actual position had been understated. I saw in the press recently in bold black headlines the words “ Two thousand impostors “. It was there stated that 2,000 pensions had been surrendered and that that number had greatly exceeded expectations. The newspaper concerned had the audacity to say that these pensioners were all impostors, and that a vast amount of imposition had been taking place in the pensions administration. If ‘that were correct there would be something fundamentally wrong with the administration. But I deny that these people are impostors. The majority of those who have surrendered their pensions are genuine cases,- but they are so disgusted with, the restrictions and with the suggestion of charity about the receipt of a pension that they prefer to dispense with it altogether and take their chance with the rest of the community. We shall find that many other pensioners will surrender their pensions for the same reason. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey) said to-day that had the Financial Emergency Act not been passed the pensions bill this year would have increased to £13,000,000. Of course, it is largely guesswork; the pensions bill may have increased to that sum or even more, but the honorable member did not explain that, because we are living under exceptional and unprecedented conditions, we must naturally expect an enormous increase of destitution in Australia. It would be astonishing indeed if the pensions ‘bill did not increase. Admitting that had it not been for the operation of recent legislation there would have been an increase in the pensions bill, we must not forget that there has ‘been a greater proportionate increase in the amount of Sole taxation required for the relief of unemployment. All over Australia today money is being diverted from the pockets of the taxpayers, not into developmental and reproductive works, but into a fund for unemployment relief, and the amount of taxation to-day is probably twice what it was three or four years ago. the Commonwealth should be prepared to carry its share of the general depression. Many people are applying for pensions, because there is nothing left for them to do. They see no other way of avoiding starvation. It is a good thing indeed that iri this critical period the people of Australia are prepared to support the aged and infirm even if it means a greater strain upon their pockets. All the money that, the community is Spending to-day to keep the aged and inform from starving arid dying on the roadside is the best insurance we could possibly have, against f evolution, and. for that reason I am not alarmed at the increase iri the pensions bill. I have never found any tendency on the part of the department” to grant pensions foi- the mere asking. My experience is that getting ah invalid pension out of the department is like drawing blood from a stone. If there is any possible way of escape from payment of an invalid pension, the department will find it. Only when there is not the slightest shadow of doubt that a pension is justified, is one’s heart gladdened by the receipt of a letter stating that a request has been granted.
– Is that the honorable member’s experience of the administration ?
– I do not wish to be misunderstood.- Since the depression, the administration has been” tightened up in every way, and, in my opinion, too severely. For three Or four years I have made inquiries regarding applications for pensions, being satisfied that the applicants were entitled to receive them; but, so long as a point could be taken by the department against the applicants, they have had no chance of their requests being granted.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Honorable members have described the bill in many ways, but the title of the measure properly describes it. It is a relief bill. It grants relief to certain sections’ of the supporters of the Governh]ent by lightening their burden of taxation, and at the same time it relieves the old-age pensioners of anything they may have left after trying to exist on their reduced pension. I am not so optimistic as some honorable members of the Government, in regard to a further extension of relief from our overseas indebtedness. Budget equilibrium could not have been even approached, had it hot been for the relief afforded under the Hoover moratorium. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) admits frankly that, if relief from war debts does not continue, the Government will have to review the financial position once more. Then, in view of the definite pronouncement by the President of the United States of America - that it is not intended to extend the operation of the moratorium - why does the Government proceed with this legislation ? The Government, if it is still opposed to repudiation, knows that if the moratorium is not extended, it will have to face the responsibility of meeting our overseas war debt; hence the threatened review of the financial position. But judging by the breach of faith demonstrated by this very measure, when that review does take place, there will be no reimposition of the land tax, to the extent of the present remission. I suggest that the way in which the position will be reviewed will be by the Government looking for any possible means of again reducing old-age and invalid pensions. Honorable members have had their own opinions in regard to pensions administration, but to those ofus who represent industrial areas, where the great majority of the pensioners reside, it appears that definite instructions have been given to the department to see that this expenditure is kept down to the absolute minimum. The officials are dependent on the Government for their positions, and they are not likely to do anything which would result in their dismissal, or jeopardize their own positions. I was rather surprised to hear the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) speak of removing anomalies in the pensions law whichimpose hardship upon pensioners, I do not give him credit for being leniently disposed towards the pensioners, and view with suspicion any amendments he may support to the law governing pensions. During the election campaign it was said that the then Opposition would be prepared to restore pensions to their former level, as soon as the finances permitted. A similar promise was given by the Prime Minister in answer to a deputation ; but, despite the fact that the finances show sufficient improvement to enable the Government to honour its promise, it has not done so. It has, instead, brought down a measure containing many matters With which my party cannot agree; but, in an attempt to get the support ofall sections of the House, the Government has embodied in the bill a feature which, it is said, willremove some of the anomaliesin the law relating to invalid and oldagepensions. I believe, however, that this provision will only create further anomalies.
Another portion of the bill provides relief for wheat-farmers. I have refrained from participating in this debate until the present time, because I realize that I do not know much, if anything, about the growing of wheat. Many members who have preceded me - particularly members of the Country party-are familiar with wheat-growing; but, judging by their remarks, I doubt whether they know much about the disposal of their product. What would they say if We on this side adopted the same attitude towards them as they have taken towards the industrial workers? They ask, “Of what use is it to put men to work in factories if We cannot sell the goods that are manufactured “ ? We might as well say to the members of the Country party, “ If you cannot sell your wheat, why grow it ? “ The wheat-farmers are always asking for assistance; but when it is suggested’ that help should be granted to other sections of the community, the reply is, “Put people at work on reproductive undertakings “. I do not deny that the wheat-farmers are in a precarious position; but if assistance is required for the wheat industry, it should not be denied in other direction’s. Let us examine some of the arguments of the Country party. It is suggested that we should stimulate the production of an article of which there is already an overproduction throughout the world. The party opposite claims that it is necessary to produce wheat and other primary commodities in order to meet our overseas debts. But, if the production of wheat is stimulated, the price will fall further - it is falling to-day throughout the world - and the country will be no better off. for it is necessary to export an increased quantity of wheat When the price is low in order to meet our overseascommitements to the same extent as sufficed when satisfactory prices are obtained. Evidently we are not workingonscientific lines. I have heard somehonorable members say in the House repeatedly that the whole financial structure of Australia is resting on the wheat and wool industries.
– So it is.
– If that is so, and the wool and wheat industries want to rest upon the balance of the community, who, I ask, is to carry the lot? Can honorable members answer that conundrum? This is one of many things that have been left unexplained. The Government has preached a policy of “cut and cut “. Recently, the grazing interests organized a “ Wear More Wool “ week, and while the community was being asked by placards and newspaper propaganda to respond to that slogan, the representatives of the wool-growers in this Parliament were assisting the Government to cut wages and restrict the purchasing power of the workers. I would be glad of a couple more suits, and probably thousands of others would welcome the opportunity to wear more wool, but government policy offers them no prospect of doing so. The wheatfarmers declare that the road back to prosperity is indicated by lower taxation, reductions of pensions and wages, longer hours, and worse conditions in industry. They want higher prices for wheat, but lower prices for everything else; their attitude is not logical. There is no immediate prospect of an increase of the price of wheat in the world markets. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland) declared last night that the quantity of wheat grown in Australia in the last three years was greater than that produced in the previous five years. That increase is not peculiar to Australia. Another honorable member stated that France has a surplus of wheat to dispose of, and the production statistics show that other wheat-producing countries are in the same position. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) mentioned the fact that wheat was being sold in certain parts of the United States of America at 2½d. a bushel. Can Australian farmers compete against such prices? Yet the wheat-farmer, while asking for all possible protection for his own industry, declares that every other industry must rest upon its own feet, and that its continuance shall depend upon its efficiency and its ability to compete with the products of cheap-labour countries.
– All industries but wheat are protected.
– At any rate, the wheat industry has been subsidized by this Parliament; that is a form of protection, because the farmer has been enabled to continue his industry, although, on his own showing, the selling price of his product is below the cost of production.
I turn now to the alleged advantages to the old-age pensioners which are offered to honorable members to induce them more readily to accept those other portions of the bill of which they disapprove. If the Government really desired to do justice to the pensioners it would repeal some of the provisions of the recent amendment of the Financial Emergency Act. Ministers and their supporters declared, when that measure was before the House, that the Government had no desire to seize the incomes of pensioners’ children who were genuinely unable to support their aged parents, and that the amending provisions were aimed only at those children who were financially able to support their parents, and would not do so. Those professions have not been carried into practice. I have knowledge of dozens of cases of injustice of which I shall mention a few that are typical, and I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to judge by them whether the act is being administered so sympathetically as he and his colleagues have claimed.
A woman who was totally and permanently incapacitated had been receiving an invalid pension for years, but a pretended friend wrote to the department and made certain charges against her. An inspector was sent to ‘her home, and because she, was absent on several occasions on which he called, he was unable to investigate her case. Nevertheless the department without further inquiry withdrew her pension, and I have made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to have it restored. To my inquiries, the department declared that the woman was not deserving of a pension, and when I asked why, they referred to a report which had been submitted to the department many years ago. On examining the papers, I found that the allegation against the woman was not that she was undeserving, but that she was not totally and permanently incapacitated. I reminded the department that the woman had not been recently examined by a medical man, and, therefore, she could not be said to be physically disqualified for a pension. The reply of the department was that she could easily be sent to a doctor if the occasion arose. That reply indicated, to my mind, that there is some truth in the charges that have been made in this House from time to time, that the medical examiners are instructed not to pass too many of the applicants, but to help to keep the expenditure as low as possible. From the fact that the invalid pension was withdrawn without the woman being medically examined, it is clear that the department was confidently anticipating the medical judgment. Such procedure is questionable. I shall quote some further instances of “ sympathetic administration.” The department wrote to me concerning the case of another pensioner -
In reference to your personal representations concerning the above-named, I have to say that the present rate of pension is assessed on property valued at ?100.
The husband of the pensioner had died and left her a small property al Narooma. For health reasons, she was obliged to move to Sydney. The department assessed the value of the property at ?100, and reduced the pension to 13s.; but the shire rate notice disclosed that the unimproved capital value of the property was only ?12. The deeds aro held, not by the pensioner, but by a solicitor who attended to the husband’s will, as security for a debt of ?15.
– What is the improved value of the block?
– The only improvementis a bush hut which was leased for a time, but the tenant paid no rent, and now the premises are vacant. Despite these facts, this widow cannot be granted a pension in excess of 13s.
I was also dealing through the department with the case of a woman who lost four sons in the Great War, two on active service, and two “ from wounds after returning to Australia. She was granted a military pension of ?1 9s. a fortnight. She had an old-age pension, but in conformity with regulations under the Financial Emergency Act, the department declared that her income could not exceed 30s. a week. The Deputy Commissioner wrote to me -
Mrs. Hayward received an old age pension of fi lis. a fortnight; therefore, the war pension may not exceed ?1 0s. a fortnight, at which rate a pension is at present being paid.
As a matter of fact, she was receiving a war pension of ?1 9s. a fortnight. The department appeared to be unaware of the facts of the case, and when I drew attention to the discrepancy I succeeded, after negotiations extending over quite a long time, in having restored to her the 2s. a fortnight which had been wrongly withheld, as well as the back money. This is what honorable members supporting the Government regard as sympathetic administration ! I invite them to review many of the cases which must come under their notice, and then ask themselves if they are doing the right thing in supporting a government which declines to do the fair thing by these unfortunate people.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has submitted an amendment, the effect of which will be to withhold the proposed remission of land tax until such time as our pensioners have had restored to them the full amount of their pensions. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) said, either in the course of his speech or by way of interjection when another honorable member was speaking, that many persons who were paying land tax on properties of an unimproved value of ?5,000 were so heavily mortgaged that in some cases their equity was less than ?100. He claimed that they were entitled to relief. Apparently, he is not so mindful of the claims of our invalid and old-age pensioners for similarly sympathetic consideration. The Government and its supporters owed their success at the last general election to definite pledges that, if returned to power, pensions would be restored to our invalid and aged people. One candidate who opposed me promised, in his election dodger, that he would press for the restoration of pension payments at the earliest possible opportunity. But he was not alone in that matter. Practically every government supporter from one end of the country to the other made a similar pledge to the people. This bill gives them an opportunity to restore full pensions to the most deserving section of our people. What are they going to do about it? If one may judge from the trend of the discussion, they are quite ready to grant a remission of land tax to influential financial institutions and wealthy landowners, who probably subscribed to their party funds at the last election, and now expect something in return for that assistance, but clearly they do not intend to help our invalid and old-age pensioners.
– On a point of order, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if our Standing Orders do not provide that the House shall suspend its sitting at 6.15 p.m. for dinner ?
– There is no standing order dealing with the suspension of sittings for meals. I understand that the Prime Minister desires the debate to be continued.
– I have no objection to continuing. The fact that the Government so often finds it difficult to maintain a quorum during the discussion of important measures that come before us, indicates that little if any consideration is being given to the work ministerialists were elected to perform. Some government supporters have declared that a pensioner getting 15s. a week is better off than is a man on the dole. I do not desire to debate that point at this stage; but I contend that neither the pensioner nor the man on the dole is getting sufficient to provide the bare necessaries of life. [Quorum formed.] In this view I am supported by friends of the Nationalist party, or what is known as the United Australia Party - sometimes described as the “Up Against the People Party.” I have in my possessS1011 a circular letter written on behalf of a relative of the candidate who opposed me at the last general election, and who, unfortunately, died before he could take his seat in the House. I refer to the late Mr. J. J. Clasby. It is as follows : -
May I interest you in the distressing circumstances of Mrs. H. Heintz, of 180 Boundarystreet, Paddington, aunt of the late J. J. Clasby, who so tragically died on the 15th January last, after being returned as a member of your honorable House for East Sydney constituency?
As you ai’c well aware, his unfortunate death was the result of the intense campaigning in that electorate. Mrs. Heintz is in delicate health: is about GO years of age; an invalid pensioner (only since her nephew’s death)) nml has no other source of income unci no savings to fall back upon since the death of her late nephew who was her sole Support . . .
This shows that even those connected with the United Australia Party admit that, the invalid and old-age pension is not sufficient to enable the recipients of it to live in reason able comfort. The letter emphasizes that this unfortunate lady, who is in receipt of an invalid pension, has no other source of income and no savings to fall back upon. This bill proposes certain amendments to the law with regard to property of pensioners, against which some persons may have advanced money by way of loan. The purpose, we are told, is to ensure that protection is afforded to those who inadvertently lend money upon the security of the property of pensioners. The same consideration is not shown to pensioners who, through inadvertence or ignorance, may, in filling in the questionnaire submitted to them, make errors due to the fact- that they may not be clear as to the precise nature of the information desired. The Government is now prepared to accept the surrender of property of pensioners if it is unencumbered. How many pensioners are in a position to surrender their land free of any encumbrance? In most cases the rates and other charges are paid by the children of invalid and old-age pensioners who happen to own land, and where they are not in a position to meet the charges, the rates and taxes owing, in not a few instances, amount to a considerable sum.
It would not be wide of the truth to say that the number of blocks that will be surrendered to the Government under this provision will not amount to more than 1 per cent, of the total properties held by pensioners. I call attention now to the case of a couple who paid a deposit on a home and raised a loan through the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. The instalments under the repurchase system amounted to £3 7s. 8d. a month. Will any one seriously contend that pensioners in receipt of 17s. 6d. a week could pay instalments of £3 7s. 8d. a month? The home happens to be in the name of the pensioner, I made representations to the department in this case to ascertain whether, on the death of the pensioner, the amount paid in pension to this man would be the first charge on the property. The Commissioner told me that any pension paid to this particular person must be a first charge on the property after his death. In this circumstance it cannot be said that this measure will grant any relief to such pensioners. If honorable members’ opposite wish to afford relief to these people they should demand the entire repeal of those provisions of the Financial Emergency Act which entitle the Government to claim the repayment of any pension Upon the realization of a deceased pensioner’s property. Although I am of the opinion that it will be a fruitless request, I ask the Prime Minister to fulfil the promises he has made on many Occasions to the pensioners Of this country, that immediately the financial position made it possible for the Government t6 restore the pensions to their former level it would be done. But the right honorable gentleman has broken his word on so many occasions that he has become hardened to the practice. When the financial position did improve sufficiently to make the restoration of the pensions possible, the Government took the opportunity to grant relief to the wealthy sections of the community. Honorable members opposite have said that if the burden of taxation is lightened industry will be stimulated, hut they have not produced a single concrete illustration to substantiate their argument.
– - It is so.
– It is not so, because what is needed to stimulate industry is not money. hut markets. Of what use is it to put people into productive employment unless markets are available for the goods they produce? What is troubling those who control industry to-day is not finance, but markets. If any line of investment which assures a profitable return is offered to the public, any amount, of money is available. We shall not stimulate industry or provide employment by remitting taxation, but only by providing markets. Honorable members know very well that there is a grave risk that this country will have to repudiate its overseas payments. The Government and its supporters have said that we can expect relief from our overseas payments, because the Government of the United States of America must realize that it cannot isolate that country from the other parts of the world, and for that reason it will have to grant some form of relief to the countries which are seeking it. But they forget that a conference has just been held at Ottawa for the purpose of organizing the British Empire into an economic unit to enable it to compete more effectively with other imperialistic powers in the world. One such power is the United States of America, and we must admit that the statesmen of that country are no less efficient in their administrative work than are British statesmen. The leaders of the people in the United States of America know very well that if they cancel the war debts due by Great Britain to America, they will make it possible for the British Government to reduce the taxation and so reduce the cost of production, which, in turn, will enable the United Kingdom to become a much more effective trade competitor with the United States of America. Whether honorable members opposite like it or 11Ot, they will eventually be forced to agree with the views expressed by the leader of the Labour party in New South Wales eighteen months or two years ago when he said that reparations and war debts would never be paid because the debtor countries of the world could not afford to pay them. Since that time honorable members opposite have said, “ We agree with the end for which you are working, but we do not approve of the policy you have adopted to achieve your end “. They are saying to-day, therefore, that America must grant relief to us. In spite of all that honorable members opposite are doing to maintain the existing social order, I forecast that all attempts to prop it up and stabilize it will fail. We shall have to realize that there is no easy way back to prosperity. The only possible road for us to take is the one that will give the people access to the things that they require. The only real way to attain a measure of prosperity is to inaugurate not in one country but in every country a new’ system of production for use and not for profit. When that time arrives, the first incentive of governments and those who control industry will be to meet the needs of the people. Whether honorable members opposite like it or not, the present social order has nearly reached its end; and a saner order is being evolved in which the chaotic circumstances under which we live to-day will have no place, and the people will have the opportunity which is denied to them to-day, to live full and complete lives. Honorable members opposite talk a great deal about the difficulties of the present situation; but we have plenty of land, plenty of homes, plenty of materials to build more homes, plenty of foodstuffs and plenty of factories lying idle which, if they were in operation, would be able to provide all the clothing and foodstuffs that our people need.
– The honorable member is not keeping within the scope of the bill.
– That is probably because I have passed my usual meal hour. However, I shall abide by the ruling of the Chair. All I wish to say is that we must understand that the legislative measures which have been introduced into this chamber recently are designed to rectify the present position of Australia, when the requirement is that we must provide remedies for similar conditions in every country. The problems which face us are not confined to Australia; they are international in their scope and must be discussed from that angle. Whether we like it or not, we must pay heed to the happenings in other parts of the world. For this reason I am not prepared to support even some of the proposals which have found favour with certain honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber. I shall use every opportunity that I have in this House and elsewhere to speak and* vote against measures of this description.
– I rise to support the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). This bill covers a vast area, but the principal object of it is to grant relief from taxation, to an enormous amount, to the wealthy interests of Australia. But I realize that the interests which support the Government are paramount with it. If they say to the Government, “ You must grant us relief from taxation,” the Government has no option but to obey the order. It has been said during this debate that this is class legislation. Of course it is. So is all the legislation which has been introduced by this Government. [Quorum formed.’] The Government is remitting taxation to the extent of £700,000 at present paid by the wealthy land-owners who provide the election expenses of Government supporters. I do not blame the Government for introducing class legislation of this character. I admire Ministers for sticking to those who stick to them; but I can assure them that when the Labour party is returned it will bring in legislation in the interests of the people whom it represents. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey) said that the members of the Labour party are merely making political capital out of the hardships and sufferings of invalid and oldage pensioners. But that honorable member, having spent the best part of his life in Great Britain hobnobbing with dukes, duchesses, and lords, knows nothing of the suffering of the people. The members of the Labour party know the conditions under which the masses live; we are always with them; we actually belong to them. Remissions of land taxation are being made to benefit such firms as Winchcombe, Carson and Company, Goldsbrough, Mort and Company. Those in control of financial institutions and large retail emporiums are to be relieved of taxation to the extent of £700,000, while the poor unfortunate pensioners are not to receive any consideration. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) said the other day that the pensioners who are receiving such scant consideration at the hands of this Government are the mothers and fathers of our soldiers who fought abroad to protect the land-owners of this country, climbed the heights of Gallipoli, fought at Gaba Tepe, struggled against death and disease in Shrapnel Gully, fought to the last man at Lone Pine, and, when shattered bodily and mentally, went to Lemnos before being asked to take up the fight again on behalf of the land-owners of Australia. I regret to say that any Government should be so callous as to act in the way this Government has done. When the Labour party is returned to power, as it will undoubtedly be before long, it will restore the pension not only to 17s. 6d., but also to 20s. a week. Later, it will make adequate provision for the pioneers of this country; it will see that they enjoy a decent- standard of living. The pension system was first introduced into this country many years ago as the result of the conditions which existed. When the Cobar mines were in full swing, the invalid and old-aged in the locality would wait outside the office on pay day in an endeavour to “ cadge “ a few pence from those who were at work and could afford to pay. About that time, a man named Micky Dillon - a good Irishman - raised the matter at a branch meeting of the Labour party. He, with others, agreed that it wa3 wrong that the pioneers of this country should have to depend upon the charity of others. As a result of the activity displayed at that time, the introduction of an invalid and old-age pension scheme was placed on the fighting platform of a branch of the Labour .party at Wrightville, near Cobar, and included on the agenda paper of the annual conference of the Australian Labour Party in Sydney. Eventually, a pensions scheme was adopted by the Lyne Government and later, pensions came under the control of the Commonwealth Government. Ever since then, invalid and old-age pensions have been regarded as a right, and not as charity. I have the honour to represent the largest metropolitan electorate in New South Wales, and in that electorate there are more aged persons than in any other. There are also several hospitals, in which there are inmate pensioners whose allowance has been reduced from 5s. to 3s. 9d. a week in order to allow the Winchcombe, Carsons and the Goldsbrough, Morts and other wealthy land-owners to obtain further concessions. If a referendum were held to determine whether the people were in favour of the taxation of the wealthy being reduced to the extent I have mentioned, it would be found that an overwhelming majority of the people are against the Government’s proposals. I challenge the Prime Minister to resign his seat and contest the Reid electorate on this issue.
– Lang would not allow the honorable member to do that.
– I know that the Prime Minister realizes that Mr. Lang is the greatest Labour leader that the country has ever produced. I know Jack
Lang well enough to say that on such an issue he would say, “ Yes Joe, have a go at Lyons and wipe the floor with him “. The Government also proposes to remit certain sales taxation. Take, for instance, blowfly traps. What benefit will that remission confer upon invalid and old-age pensioners? The Government is also lifting the tax on “ essences (being substantially juices of Australian fruits) from which nonalcoholic beverages are made.” How much of this essence will be received by the aged and infirm, who are in the Newington State Institution, the Lidcombe Old Men’s Home, or the Parramatta institutions? Those old pioneers blazed the trail in years gone by. Toil and time silvered their hair. They looked to this Parliament to do something for them. What did it do? Honorable members opposite voted to reduce the paltry allowance made to those old stalwarts from 5s. to 3s. 9d. a week. Are they not ashamed of their conduct? Sales tax is also to be lifted from “fish of Australian origin, including oysters.”
– The honorable member will not be in order in referring extensively to items in the bill. He may refer only to the general principles of the measure.
– I ask for a little latitude on account of my lack of knowledge of the routine of this Parliament. I ask you, sir, how many oysters and crayfish will the old-age pensioners be enjoying to-night? I trust that I shall be able to soften the hearts of some honorable members opposite and induce them to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for West Sydney. I appeal to that good man, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and ask whether he thinks that the persons in government institutions will be treated to oysters to-night. I was very disappointed that the honorable member did not vote to ensure that these worthy people, who are spending the evening of their lives in these homes for the aged, should be allowed to retain their 5s. a week, which is little enough. I believe that he is one of the few honorable members opposite who possess really compassionate hearts. Yet he always votes with the Government.
There are to be remissions of sales tax on pastry, scones, buns, cakes, bread sandwiches and baby rusks. How many inmates of these homes are enjoying those delicacies? Prior to the reduction of their small allowance, these old people were able to enjoy a modicum of comfort. Now they are to be deprived of any little luxury. [Quorum formed. ] I thank the honorable member for East Sydney for having called attention to the state of the House for I want as many government members as possible to be present so that I may try to convert them to vote for the amendment. There are to be remissions of sales tax on pickles, sauces and vinegar. How many pickles will the old-age pensioners be given, whether chow chow or plain onion ? I am glad that the Government has lifted sales tax from an item for which I fought, in company with the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), until 4 o’clock one morning. I refer to poison carts. Sales tax is also being removed from treacle and golden syrup. It is a wonder that the Government did not realize earlier that these are really the staple foods of the aged and poor, and are the only foods that they can afford to buy with the miserable pittance they receive.
– What does the honorable member think of the wheat bounty?
– I know that when, on a previous occasion, I endeavoured to secure a bounty for the wheat-farmers, members of the Country party crossed the floor and voted against it. The time is not far distant when the true Labour party will occupy the Government benches. It will then remedy the wrongs from which the workers are suffering, and will restore to invalid and old-age pensioners the full amount to which they are entitled. Too long have the people suffered under composite Nationalist and Country party governments. They are now aliveto the situation, and we may judge their frame of mind from the result of the Leichhardt by-election on Saturday fortnight. I hope that the Nationalists will put up as strong a candidate as they can find in order that there may at least be a semblance of a fight.
– Order !
– I hope that some members of the Government will vote for the amendment, and assist to alleviate some of the suffering that is rampant among invalid and old-age pensioners. In any case those people will not lose heart, but will patiently wait for the next general election. The American poetess, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, describing the sufferings of the world, wrote the following magnificent lines: -
Oh man, bowed down by labour,
Oh woman, young and old,
Oh heart oppressed in the toiler’s breast,
And crushed by the power of gold.
Go on with your weary labour,
Against triumphant might;
No cause was ever settled,
Until it was settled right.
With those lines I conclude.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Beasley’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill brought up by Mr. Latham, and read a first time.
Bill brought up by Mr. Lyons, and read a first time.
The following papers were presented : -
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act -Crown Lands Ordinance - Reasons for resumption of a Mineral and Gold-mining Reserve at Pine Creek, together with sketch showing area resumed.
Public Service Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 130.
Sessio n al Programme - Retirement of Housekeeper.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, the Government hopes to be able to complete the Financial Relief Bill, and then to go on with the War Service Homes Agreement Bill, the Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Bills, a bill relating to bills of exchange, and a Public Service Bill, dealing with an alteration of names of departments. There is, in addition, the Income Tax Assessment Bill, the Income Tax Billy, and, finally, the Colonial Light Dues Bill. It is possible that Parliament may also be able to deal with the Bankruptcy Bill. There arc three or four other measures of a non-contentious nature which may be brought down if it is found practicable to do so.
– I desire to make a brief reference to the retirement of a very old officer of Parliament House, Mr. F. Sparkes, who has occupied the position of housekeeper for some years. He first entered the Service as a permanent officer on his appointment as messenger to the Legislative Council of Victoria, on the 1st July, 1891. At the inception of federation, he was transferred to the staff of the Senate, as messenger, on the 1st May, 1901. He was subsequently promoted to the position of special messenger in charge of stores and stationery, on the 1st July, 1912, and Senate housekeeper on the 19th November, 1925. When Parliament was transferred to Canberra,the was appointedhousekeeper for the Parliament on the 21st April, 1927. He has, therefore, completed more than 41 years of continuous service for the Government, and now retires, having attained the statutory age limit. He leaves the Commonwealth Service with an exceptional record for the faithful fulfilment of all his duties. I am sure that honorable members will appreciate this reference to him, and will desire that I should convey to him their wishes for a long life and good health to enjoy his retirement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 7.9 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
r asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
e asked the Prime Minister, upon notice - 1.Is it the intention of the Government to create a permanent committee to deal with the disabilities under federation of the State of South Australia, and other smaller States of the Commonwealth ?
– A decision in regard to the matter has not yet been reached.
t. - Information is being obtained in reply to questions asked, upon notice, by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr.Fenton) in regard to the export of butter.
r asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr. LYONS. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has the Government any information in its possession as to -
In connexion with the graduated land tax, is he in a position to give to the House -
s. - The points raised by the honorable member are being looked into, and a reply will be made available at an early date.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is the Government prepared to accede to the request of the British Empire Union that a royal commission should be immediately appointed to inquire into the methods employed by certain oil importing firms, more particularly with respect to evasion of income tax payments ?
– This matter has been engaging the attention of the Government, but 1 am not yet in a position to indicate what action will be taken thereon.
s.- -On the 17th November, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) asked the following question, without notice : -
Will the Treasurer reconsider the request made to him by the Australian Dried Fruits Association forthe remission of sales tax upon their products? The production of dried fruits is a primary industry, and requires assistance
The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Products of the dried fruits industry, viz., dried fruits, have been exempt from sales tax since the commencement of that tax in August, 1030. The honorable member apparently intended to refer not to products of the industry, but to certain commodities used in producing dried fruits. The Australian Dried Fruits Association recently requested that exemption from sales tax be granted in respect of certain aids to production. It is considered that the incidence of sales tax on these goods does not impose a serious burden on the industry. The allowance of the claims would result in administrative difficulties, as the goods in question are of such a nature that they may be used for many purposes other than in the production of dried fruits. Moreover, other industries have to bear sales tax upon their aids to manufactureor production, and it is considered that if the present claims were allowed, unfair discrimination between industries would result.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 November 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321125_reps_13_137/>.