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Thursday, 9 August 1906


Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) .- After the speech just made by the honorable member for New England, which traversed lines so often followed by many honorable members of the Opposition, bothin this Parliament and in some of the States Legislatures, I might reasonably expect to be excused if, only for the sake of diversion, I allowed the fiscal question to remain untouched. I am somewhat surprised that those who profess free-trade views always shirk an opportunity to give effect to them. As a matter of fact, we have on the Opposition benches theoretical free-traders, who have for many years proclaimed their views ; but never in the history of the freetrade party have they had the temerity to seek to give effect to the policy that they have so vigorously expounded. During this debate honorable members of the Opposition have repeated previous speeches to such a degree as to cause them to become positively nauseating. If they were consistent they would at once make a direct effort to place on the statute-book of the Commonwealth a Tariff which would give effect to the fiscal views they profess. But they are prepared to do anything rather than attempt to take that course. They are prepared to say to the country, " Let us get into office, and we will sink the fiscal issue for ten long years." Have we not heard one of their party telling the people that for the sake of getting into office he is prepared to cry a fiscal truce for ten years? When honorable members assert on the public platform that they are prepared to take a vote even from the Prince of Darkness, as long as it will land them in position and power, we can well imagine how insincere are their professions with regard to the fiscal issue. I come now to the Budget statement. I do not altogether agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Bland with regard to the proposal of the Government to establish penny postage throughout the Commonwealth and with other countries which are prepared to reciprocate. We must keep step with the march of progress, so far as postal communication is concerned. The postal system is one of the main arteries along which the blood of commerce flows. Through its medium, also, we are enabled to communicate with our friends, no matter how far away they may be, and it is important that we should make this means of communication as effective, and, at the same time, as economical as possible. Some say that the revenue which it is proposed to sacrifice in this way could be more profitably used in other directions. I believe, however, that we must sooner or later fall into line with other countries in regard to penny postage, and that there is no time like the present to take action. If we allow the reform to stand over until our expenditure absorbs the one-fourth of Customs and Excise revenue, to which we are entitled, there will be a strong disinclination on the part of this Parliament to concede it. Unless we avail ourselves of the present opportunity to effect it, the reform may be postponed for years. I am not satisfied that the extension of penny postage throughout the Commonwealth will involve an annual loss of £209,000 per annum. Even if at the outset it does so, I feel assured that the number of letters transmitted through the Post Office will be so increased as to return eventually a larger revenue than that estimated. I am not at all satisfied with the attitude of the Government in regard to the telephone system. In answer to a question by the honorable member for Yarra, the Postmaster-General informed us to-day that numerous deputations of commercial and business men had protested against the adoption of the toll system.


Mr Storrer - Against the rate; not the toll.


Mr WEBSTER - The one involves the other, and the rate cannot be altered unless by the adoption of the system. Hitherto the business and commercial men in the large cities of Australia have obtained more than a fair share of a service which is unequalled in any other part of the civilized world. But, although they are protesting against the adoption of equitable telephone rates, we hear no protests from them against the proposal to establish penny postage throughout the Commonwealth. This shows the insincerity of their declamations against what they brand as Socialism. When their own pockets are benefited, and they are able to take advantage of socialistic arrangements, they are prepared to do so, however much others may suffer ; but they are always ready to protest against the extension of justice and equity to other sections of the community. Those who are receiving an altogether unfair share of the advantages of our telephone system denounce the Labour Party because we are trying to bring about a more equitable distribution of the benefits arising from a just administration. The right honorable member for East Sydney has the support of these men. In his wonderful campaign in Queensland, he dilated upon the enormities of the programme of the Labour Party. He told his hearers that Australia is being ruined, and that the good achieved up to the present time is being undermined by the horrid Labour Party. I am pleased with the efforts which he has put forward, because I know that the more he tries to put his view of the case before the public the more will the people be convinced of his insincerity, and of the fairness of the aims of the Labour Party. Our present telephone system is altogether inequitable. It is not surprising that business men do not com- plain of the charges made for the telephone service on the flat system. because there are in Melbourne, and in Sydney, business houses who use ''it service to such an extent that, if the Mere charged ½d per call for all calls in excess of a maximum cf 750, thev would have to pay £95 per annum instead of £9 as at present. These are the men who, taking an unfair advantage of the socialistic machinery of the Postal Department, cry out against the Socialism of the Labour Tarty. I ask the Postmaster-Genera] not to back down upon the determination to establish the toll system. I ask him to see that equity and justice are done to the whole community, and not to pay heed to the protests of those who desire Socialism for themselves, but will not allow others to share its benefits. It is in the interests of the dwellers in the back-blocks that we should charge fairly for our telephone service, so that we may expand it and increase its usefulness, bringing the blessings of civilization into the homes of those who now are isolated. I ask honorable members not to forget the pioneers who have borne the heat and burden cf the day, and are the men who have made Australia prosperous. They should be considered in this matter. I shall not, however, deal, with it at greater length this evening, but shall proceed to speak upon another subject which is of more importance than anything else mentioned in the Budget speech of the Treasurer. Many men have exhibited placards to display the remedies which they propose for saving the country. The cry has been raised that Australia needs population, and it is said that it is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to make preparations for the reception of useful, industrious immigrants, who will settle upon and make habitable land which is now not profitably occupied. The subject, however, is not regarded as an important one by those who are the political leaders of the country. They are content to squabble over the mythical advantages of protection, and free-trade, in regard to the advantages of which it may be said that there are six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. I say deliberately and designedly that the socalled protectionists in this Chamber are not true protectionists ; they are really revenue tariffists of a little darker shade than that of the so-called free-traders who sit on the Opposition side of the Chamber, and who in no sense of the term have a right to call themselves free-traders. All that they are concerned about is the changing of duties from one item to another, to suit Treasury exigencies. I do not believe in political manoeuvring, which allows men to escape from the principles which they profess. There is something much greater than the fiscal question. The evils of which I am about to speak will not be removed by the quack remedies put forward by our party leaders. When the time was opportune, and it served his purpose to do so, the right honorable member for East Sydney went to the bedrock of the matter, though he takes very little interest in the subject now. What lies at the root of our troubles, and prevents the development of the country, is the land legislation of the past. That is the cancer which has struck its roots into the very vitals of the people, and is preventing the expansion of Australia and retarding its welfare. Day after day it is demanding toll from humanity to an extent which, bearing in mind the smallness of our population, has never been witnessed in any other country. The history of Australia covers a period of only a little more than 100 years ; but already a large part of the land of the Continent is in the hands of a very small minority, and, whenever land is in the hands of a few, the majority are virtually their slaves, because those who wish to use it have to accept the terms of those who own it. In this way a gigantic national evil has sprung up. Men propound remedies, and theorize about land reform, just as they theorize about free-trade and protection ; but no honest effort is made to bring about the realization of what we all know to be necessary. The press and many of our leading public men declare that we have no right to interfere with those who own the land, because they have bought it, and should be left in possession of it. I should like to know by what moral or legal right any Government is empowered to sell for ever the patrimony of the people. Governments exist for the purpose of administering the affairs of the community in the interests of the public. What may be an equitable arrangement in a country populated by only 3,000 or 4,000 persons may have become inequitable when the population has increased to 3,000,000 or 4,000,000. Governments have exceeded their rights in alienating the public estate-. If to-day the whole of the lands of the

Commonwealth were parcelled out among those who now reside here, what would be the position of those who will be here ten, twenty, or fifty years hence ? Surely those who are born in the likeness of their Maker are entitled to some of the benefits which God has created for the use and enjoyment of all. Yet there are public men who maintain that, because certain persons who came early and obtained the lion's share, picking out the eyes of the land, and paying only a peppercorn in return, reaping, all the advantages of railway construction - often brought about by political log-rolling - and the expenditure of Government money in providing the other conveniences necessary in a civilized country, so that their wealth has increased as they have slept, thev must now be regarded as the lords of creation, against whom none must raise his voice. I question the right of Governments to alienate the lands of the people for ever.


Mr Tudor - They have done it.


Mr WEBSTER - The fact that deeds have been issued under laws made in Parliaments in which there was no one to raise his voice on behalf of the masses, by those in possession of the land, or their representatives, or the lawyers who were their tools, does not prove it to have been right. When a Government mortgages the rights of those yet unborn, when it takes away from my children and my children's children the right to live in a free country without having, to pay toll to a privileged class, I contend that it exceeds its func-tions, and is not governing the country for the advantage of the people. I am sure that no honorable member will be found to enunciate the contrary doctrine. The Government have improperly assumed the right to permanently alienate the public lands. As they represent the whole community, it is their duty to administer the public property as may appear from time to time to be most advantageous to the country. In acting otherwise, the« assume rights and powers which they are not entitled to exercise, and it is full time that they were compelled to rectify the wrongs done in the past. No Government has a right, moral or otherwise, to alienate the lands of the people for all time, and thus rob unborn generations of their birthright.


Mr Kennedy - Before we had selfgovernment there was no alienation of land in Australia. - Mr. WEBSTER.- Exactly. However, our land has been alienated to a very large extent, and there have arisen among us a body of men who call themselves singletaxers, and who, for the most part, are earnest anu sincere in their efforts to remedy one ... the most grievous wrongs that have ever been inflicted upon a community. We row see some of these singletaxers sitting cheek by jowl in this Chamber with the representatives of land monopoly. We see men who have for years advocated the doctrine of confiscation - I believe that the right honorable member for East Sydney has .*o termed the policy of the single taxers - now sitting in the camp of those who are the strongest advocates of land monopoly.


Mr Reid - They do not draw the line at £5,000. Why does the honorable member draw the line at that amount?


Mr WEBSTER -Because we believe that any man. who toils for his livelihood, and has to provide food for his wife and children, should have secured' to him a reasonable living, wage.


Mr Reid - It takes a lot of property to represent £5,000 of unimproved value.


Mr WEBSTER - When I speak of providing a man with a reasonable living wage, does the right honorable gentleman suppose that I contemplate that the father and mother should be provided with the bare necessaries of life? Has the worker no title to a little luxury? Is he so far forgotten by those who pretend to represent him as to be placed beyond the pale of any consideration other than that necessary to secure to him a bare subsistence? Is he not entitled to derive some benefit from the wealth that he is producing ? Not only is he entitled to consideration, but some provision should be made for the wife who struggles at his side, and for his children. Surely it should be our desire to improve the race both physically ar.d mentally, and it must be admitted that a sound constitution cannot be more readily developed than by engaging, in some outdoor occupation. Those who work on the land are engaged in the most healthful occupation that could well be conceived. It is a well-known fact that, if it were not for the constant influx of people from the country, the population of London would die out in three generations. The country is a storehouse from which we draw our mechanics, our professional and business men. and all those who follow occupations in and around the centres of business activity. I am one of those who hope to see the State recognise the right of' the poor man's children to be properly clothed and fed. I do not wish them to be fed upon Chicago tinned meat, or anything of that kind, but upon good wholesome food. I also hope to see them placed amidst healthy surroundings. And I trust that our conditions of life in the Commonwealth will enable us to raise up a sturdy yeomanry such as through all the ages has been the backbone of every community, and without which we cannot attain the position to which we aspire. I take it for granted that the children of our settlers upon the land are entitled to some educational training, and> that men who have large families should be in a position to make due provision in that direction. Incidentally, I might mention the probable effect upon the birth-rate of .our settling upon the land a prosperous and vigorous yeomanry. We know very well that those who follow rural occupations are, as a rule, healthy and vigorous, and that to the. extent to which we encourage settlement we may expect our birth-rate to increase. We mav fairly assume that those who settle upon the land will have large families, and will therefore have a correspondingly larger' claim upon our consideration. Therefore, I say that the exemption of £5,000, which we propose in connexion with our land taxation scheme, is not more than sufficient to enable our yeomanry to perform all the functions I have indicated, and to live under conditions which should prevail in any democratic and progressive country. That is my answer to the right honorable member for East Sydney. -Up to the present time, the States Parliaments, and especially that of New South Wales, have endeavoured, as far as has been practicable, in view of the opposition with which they have met, to pass laws to insure to the working classes a reason? able share of the wealth which they are producing. ' We are. not like the commercial men in the cities who want to retain all the cream, and to- leave the skimmed milk for other sections of the community. We desire to place our farmers and other settlers upon the same equitable and fair footing as that occupied bv workers engaged in our centres of industry. We therefore fixed an exemption with a ; view to giving our settlers an opportunity to surround themselves with 'comfortable conditions and rear their families with satisfactory results to' the community. The right honorable member for East Sydneytells the farmers that the representatives of labour would ruin them, that the proposed progressive land tax would spread' desolation throughout the farming districts. The right honorable gentleman'sheart bleeds for the Door farmers ; but he does not say anything about the- poor farmers' sons who are growing up landless, and who are travelling through the States day by day in the vain search for land suitable for occupation. He does not say what is to become of the farmers' grandsons. He does not profess to look oneinch ahead. He is concentrating all his attention upon the farmer to-da\.. and is endeavouring to excite his selfishness. He wants to frighten him, and he cares nothing for those who will have to follow. I have looked carefully into this question, and I have come to the conclusion that the lands of the States have been monopolized to such an extent that it is time that something should be done. The single taxers have proposed a remedy which is impracticable, and some of them have now allied themselves with the right honorable member for East Sydney. I should like that right honorable gentleman to tell the farmers that there is a danger that the single tax- party, who are worming their way into his camp, may succeed in substituting the single tax fct the progressive land tax advocated by the Labour Party. 0 I should like him to point out that the deputyleader of the anti-socialistic party is an ardent single taxer, and that there is imminent danger of a .policy being' introduced which pays no consideration to theright of a man to make a fair living wagecut of his labours on the land. We propose the progressive land tax for various: reasons.' Our main object is to burst uplarge estates* I have previously asserted! that the bulk' of the best land in the Commonwealth has been monopolized' by those who first came here - I refer to the land most suitable for close settlement and for profitable occupation by small farmers. Are the' lands which have been benefited by the expenditure of Government money - by the construction of railways, bridges and culverts, and by the erection of telegraphs and .telephones- available to "those who are willing to enter upon them,- and put them to- a profitable use? Admittedly they- are not. Consequently it- only remains for me to show that the imposition! of a progressive land, tax' will effectively burst up large estates in order to justify that proposal. In this connexion we have benefited by the experience of New Zealand. This tax was first put in operation in that country twelve or thirteen years ago. That political celebrity, the late Mr. John Ballance, was the father of the proposal, and he sacrificed his life in fighting the opposition which' we have to encounter to-day - the opposition of the anti-Socialists. In so doing he rendered a great service to Australia, and his name is like a. beacon light to every individual in the community who desires to see this country prosper. But, notwithstanding that the late lamented Premier of New Zealand, Mr. Richard Seddon, faithfully carried out the behest of his former leader, and was sufficiently strong to overcome the temporary difficulties which beset his path - difficulties which were raised by those who are preaching anti- Socialism to-day - the operation of the progressive land tax there has not been as effective as it might have been. Owing to the fact that it partook of the character of experimental legislation, a very small progressive rate was imposed, and it was because of the smallness "of the increase - an increase of only one-sixteenth of a penny per pound for every £2,500 of unimproved land values held by an individual in excess of £5,000 - that that legislation did not accomplish all that it was designed to effect. Profiting by that experience, the Labour Party - the coming party in Australia, and the only party which has a policy that it is not ashamed to propound-


Mr Reid - What is the fiscal policy of the party?


Mr WEBSTER - We do not profess to imitate the right honorable gentleman by telling the people that we are what we are not. We do not regard the fiscal question as one of paramount importance. We aim rather to strike at the root of the evils upon which the right honorable gentleman has politically thrived for years. He seems to relish interjections when he is speaking, and I suppose it is only natural that he should think that others like them. Because he requires spoon-feeding he imagines that I am also in need of it. I can assure him that I am not. However, I take his interpolations in the best possible spirit, - I am, in fact, verv much obliged to him for them. Our policy is intended, primarily, to burst up the large estates, and incidentally to raise revenue. The latter object is not a bad one, seeing that the Labour Party propose that any revenue derived from this source, after the expense of col: lection has been defrayed, shall be applied to alleviating the distress of the aged men' and women of Australia. In other words,, it will be utilized as a fund with which to pay old-age pensions. Nobody can object to that, indeed, I feel sure that our proposal will receive the endorsement of the people. We have only to observe the signs of the times in order to determine which way the wind is blowing. To-day the whole ot the Tory press of Australia is rampant. If any man or woman in the community needed an indication of how he or she should vote, they have merely to look at the way in which the monopolists are going, and the way in which the press is striking, in order to discover it. The press of the chief cities of Australia is a mercenary one. It is governed by the patronage which it derives from advertisers, 'who pay so much per inch for the space which they occupy in its columns. It is practically controlled by monopolists. It has not a soul to be blessed, or a body to be damned. The right honorable member for East Sydney has been travelling round the country raving about the proposals of the Labour Party, and the provincial press have been religiously reporting every word that he has uttered. In almost every little town that he visited, I think special numbers of the local journals must have been issued, in order to insure a verbatim report being given of his utterances upon the great question of Socialism.


Mr Reid - And yet the newspapers will not print the speeches of the honorable member. That is the trouble.


Mr WEBSTER - -I know the reason of that. When they print my utterances I shall begin to think that I have deserted the people with whom I formerly worked, with whom I suffered, and with whom I toiled, and I shall be obliged to look round to see what is likely to happen to my political opinions, and to my reputation. What do I care what the press says about the party with which' I am associated? It is because there has been too much pandering to the press that reform has been strangled on the very threshold of Parliament. It is because the Labour Party will not back up its policy of boodle, oppression, and tyranny that the press never reports the utterances of our members, except to hold them up in ridicule. I venture to say that there are scribes in the press gallery of this House who would not hold their positions very long if they were not pastmasters in digging out, and holding up to ridicule, any utterances by members of the Labour Party, and in polishing up the addresses of the followers of the right honorable member for East Sydney, whenever they make incursions into anti-socialistic mythology. The cry of confiscation has been raised by the press and by the public men to whom I have referred. What do they mean by confiscation? What are we going to confiscate? What land monopolists enjoy to-day they do not enjoy by virtue of right. In this connexion we must recollect that it was the necessities of the people which led to the French Revolution, when every gutter ran with blood, and when every lamp-post was a gibbet. Those results were brought about by conditions similar to 'hose which exist in. Australia to-day. The people rose in protest against such conditions, and overthrew the landed classes, so that in France to-day, instead of a few thousand' persons holding man's heritage from God, there are more than 3,000,000 landed peasants contributing to the stability of the country. This Parliament is elected on adult suffrage, and looks upon all adults as having equal rights. The right honorable member for East Sydney tells the farmers in the back-blocks that, under the land-tax proposals of the Labour Party all estates under the value of £5,000 will be exempt, but that they ought to look ahead, for it is only a matter of time when the exemption will be reduced. The honorable member fears that the bogey which he is endeavouring to raise with regard to our land-tax proposals will not be sufficient to alienate from the. party the support of the men on the land, and he, therefore, seeks to frighten them by drawing a woeful picture of what we may do tenyears hence. I wish to show how utterly fallacious are the arguments of the right honorable gentleman, and that when he speaks in this way he shows that he either does not understand the operation of land taxation or that he is not sincere. I say without hesitation that, instead of bringing about the confiscation of the land of the farmers whom the right honorable member for East Sydney has been endeavouringto scare, the proposals of the Labour Party will secure them against anything of the kind. Let me illustrate how this will be done. Every large estate which is subdivided will mean increased voting power on the part of the farming community. If, say, in Victoria an estate of 50,000 acres is subdivided, and 200 families are placed upon it, that will mean an increase of something like 300- votes on the rolls of the division in which, it is situated, and, surely, those votes will go to protect the farmer from any additional taxation which may follow from a reduction of the exemption. That the statements of the right honorable member, in regard to the land-tax proposals of the Labour Party, are a hollow mockery, ought to be palpable to any one who gives the matter a moment's consideration. I am satisfied' that if the members of our party went into the country and expounded our policy to the farmers, they would not only secure their undivided support, but cause them to decline to listen to the right honorable member, although he is supposed to be so eminent a leader of public opinion. The proposal of the Labour Party is that a tax of½d. in the £1 shall' be imposed in respect of all estates between the value of . £5,001 and £10,000. Surely a man owning £10,000 worth of land will not be ruined if he is called upon to pay an annual tax of £10 8s. 4d. I am confident that those who to-day have no land would be proud if they could qualify to pay that tax. Then, again, estates valued at from £10,001 to £15,000 are to be subject to an additional tax of½d. in the £1. And so the tax continues to progress until we arrive at estates of the value of £60,000 and over, which, we propose, shall be taxed to the extent of 4d. in the £1.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And then the party propose to nationalize the land.


Mr WEBSTER - That is another purely mythical idea.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does not the platform of the State Labour Party of New South Wales provide for that?


Mr WEBSTER - When honorable members of the Opposition cannot confute the arguments of a member of the Federal Labour Party who is expounding the proposals of his party with regard to land taxation - proposals which are practically an instruction from those responsible for his return - they ask him, " Why does the platform of the State Labour Party in New South Wales propose ?" or " What are the proposals of the Victorian State Labour Party?"


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the honorable member 'is answering one argument he turns to another.


Mr WEBSTER - It is the honorable member who desires me, when answering one argument, to turn to another.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member say that the policy of the Federal Labour Party is opposed to that of the State Labour Party of New South Wales?


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable member cannot " trap " me by means of these thinly-veiled devices.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would it be " trapping" the honorable member if he made that statement ?


Mr WEBSTER - Is the honorable member trying another little dodge? If he is he is not likely to succeed. I have tonight a mission to fulfil. The majority of the estates in the Commonwealth range in value from £20,000 to £40,000 each. There are a number of others which are more valuable, but it is to those ranging from £20,000 to £40,000 of unimproved land values that our proposals would principally apply. It is because we desire that it shall be practically effective and profitable that we have adopted the scale of taxation which I have indicated, and which has already been published. But we are going a step further. It is proposed that these rates shall be increased 50 per cent. in the case of absentee landlords, who spend in other countries the profits derived from estates within the Commonwealth, and pay little or nothing towards the cost of protecting their property. We make this proposal because it is our desire to bring about a complete reform. We are well aware that the Opposition, and those who think with them, will endeavour to convince the man on the land that the Labour Party are his enemies.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They have only to put forward the nationalization proposal.


Mr WEBSTER - A man who has the welfare of the people at heart, and is proposing that which will practically transform the whole basis of land settlement in Australia, cares nothing for press statements in regard to him. He knows that his policy is founded on equity and justice, and that it is only a matter of time when the people as a whole will see that legislative effect is given to it.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why single out the Opposition ? What about the Treasurer ?


Mr WEBSTER - So far as we are concerned, there is. only one Opposition; those who are not for us are against us. I care not in what corner of the House honorable members are thrust, whether by political necessity or otherwise; all that I desire to know is whether they are opposed to that which will benefit the people as a whole. If I conclude that they are, I know what to do. I pay no homage to an honorable member, whether he sits on this side or on the Opposition side of the House.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member pays a very willing homage to the man who sits over there.


Mr WEBSTER - I pay no homage whatever ; but honorable members on this side are prepared to go a little further than are the Opposition. If I were walking along a rough and hazardous road, and a foreigner, although not particularly friendly to me, offered me a " lift," I should be prepared to accept it, because I should know that it would assist me in reaching my destination. In this connexion I am prepared to take whatever help I can secure,just as the honorable member was prepared a few years ago to accept the assistance of either side in giving effect to his principles. A few days since I was reading a speech delivered by him when he had the honour - and it was an honour - to be the leader of the Labour Party in the State Parlament of New South Wales. 1 question whether the honorable member feels as comfortable to-night as he did when he was amongst men with whom he had worked, and whose sympathies were in harmony with his own. Generally speaking, in the speech to which I have referred the honorable member indicated that he was prepared to do that which I am prepared to do. He asserted that Governments were nothing, but that principles were everything to him, and that, in giving legislative effect to the principles he professed, he was quite prepared to receive assistance either from one side or the other.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that I was then as big a simpleton as the honorable member is at the present time.


Mr WEBSTER - Then the honorable member has deteriorated since that time. I was dealing with the honorable member in his political capacity. I do not think that he is a simpleton, although he has so dubbed himself. He is nearer being an opportunist, and since he has been in political life has not missed an opportunity to benefit himself. No man can deny that statement. In that respect he is in congenial company, because the man who stands bv the cause of labour rarely makes much out of it, seeing that if he does his duty by his constituency and those who have claims upon him, he generally has but little to spare.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know. The Labour Party has made a good deal more out of Parliament than I have done.


Mr WEBSTER - I read in a newspaper the other day that the honorable member is reported to be worth £20,000, though I do not know how true that state-, ment is.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is as true as most of the statements of the honorable member.


Mr WEBSTER - If it isi true, I understand why the honorable member sits where he does. There is no magnet like gold to attract the ordinary, average human being. The tax which we propose, instead of confiscating the land of the farmer, will increase his security by 50 per cent. We wish to indicate to him how it will protect him. and that is done by showing that every new settler placed upon land which is now unoccupied will add to his security by providing an additional vote against treachery on the part of any party in Parliament. I am pitting my views on record in Hansard for the benefit, of the public. I am not speaking to the press, because I have no desire to rob the proprietors of the newspapers of advertising space. The people of my electorate, away out in the alleged Never Never country, rarely see the daily newspapers, or get them only when they are very ancient. But they get Hansard, in which is published what is spoken here; and thus they can know the thoughts of those who represent them in Parliament. I speak to the people in the country, not to the classes represented by the members of the Opposition. In New South Wales, the mother State of the Commonwealth, the number of holdings of sixteen, but not exceeding '400 acres in extent was1, in 1880, 27,501 ; and, in 1905, fifteen years later, 39,843, an increase of 45 per cent. In the former year, the number of holdings of 40 1 acres and upwards, was 7,443; and, in 1905, the number of such holdings had increased to 15,245, an increase of 105 per cent. These figures may, perhaps, be more easily read in the following table: -

 


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The figures relating, to' the alienation of land in New South Wales would be very instructive.


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable member for Parramatta was a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales for a large number of years, and he cannot escape responsibility for the results of the legislation passed during that time. The total area of land alienated in New South Wales is 48,081,314 acres, of which 22,830,261 acres, or nearly 50 per cent., are in the hands of 722 persons.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The State Government has the power, under an Act of Parliament, to resume such land as it requires for closer settlement.


Mr WEBSTER - I shall deal with that matter presently, and show the beautiful results of the New South Wales land policy. I know the arguments of the honorable member, and of those associated with him, and I am prepared to meet them. I shall show how big estates have been built up under the land legislation of the State. Holdings of 30 acres and under represent only .40 per cent, of the total area alienated there. Those are mostly the holdings of men who have to work for their living in the employ of others, and are trying, to make homes for their families. The average size of such holdings is 7.7 acres. Of the holders of areas between 401 acres and 1,000 acres, each has an average area of 634 acres, or ti.88 per cent, of the total area alienated. The owners of holdings of areas varying from 1,001 to 10,000 acres possess 29.11 per cent, of the total alienated area, and the 722 holders of estates of 50,000 acres and upwards possess 47.48 per cent, of the total area alienated. Could monopoly go much further? The Macarthurs, the Australian Agricultural Company, the Peel River Company, and the owners of other large estates have taken the cream of the land, strangling the progress of the towns of the States, and undermining the prosperity of the Commonwealth. Estates are being built up, and land is going out of occupation, under legislation made bv Parliamentarians who were elected to do the will of the land-owning classes. Since 1882, 44,352,613 acres of conditionally purchased land has been transferred. To whom has it been transferred? Most of it has gone into the hands of the 722 men who possess half the alienated land of the State. Land has been dummied, bond fide settlers have been crushed out, and today, if one goes through the State as I have travelled through it during the past twelve months, he will, see the remains of the little homes of settlers who have parted with their heritage, tempted by the money offered to them by the large land-holders, and are now adrift on the labour market. In the period to which I have referred,' only 18,481,880 acres have been applied for as conditional purchases, and 28,870,733 acres have gone out of occupation. That is a damnable indictment of those who defend the present land system. Surely such a state of affairs must in a very short time be reformed by revolution, if evolution will not produce a change. I say to members of the Opposition, " If you are not with us in this matter, you are with the 722 monopolists who own half the alienated land of New South Wales." Of the total property in that State, £136,417,000 worth, or 36 per cent, of the whole value, is held by 178,000 persons. The State has a population of 1,500,000 persons, of whom 700,000 are 'adults, male and female. Therefore, there are 622,000 adults, male and female, who have no property. The bread-winners of the State, that is, those earning a livelihood for wives and families, number 564,000, while the wage-earners, number 386,000. There are, I repeat, 622,000 landless men in New South Wales - men who have no right to participate in the wealth that is their rightful heritage - no right to use -any portion of the 'land's of the States for the benefit of their wives and families. The time for action has arrived. Unless we immediately bestir ourselves in the direction of reform, we shall, in effect, commit national suicide. In Victoria, I find that the position is much the same. In that State there are 18,342 holdings of from :r. acre to 100 acres, having a total area of 675,672 acres, or an average per holding of 36 acres. There are 15,414 'holdings of from 1.01 acres to 320 acres, having, a total area of 3,280,5.12 acres, or an everage of 2T2 acres per holding. There are :l3>32°. holdings of from 320 to 1,000 acres of a total acreage of 7,7.62,575 acres, or an average of 582 acres per holding. There are 610 holdings of from 1,001 to 50,000 acres, with a total area of 8,275,111 acres, or an average per holding of 13,565 acres. And, finally, holdings of 50,000 acres and over are held by twenty-three people, who own the absolute freehold of 3,432,381 acres. , The average holding represents an area of 149,233 acres. Whilst these twenty-three men' have each 150,000 acres, there are thousands of white slaves who are sweating for a bare existence in the cities- and towns of Victoria, without a hope of ever seeing the country, or enjoying the pure country air. We are told that we are entering upon a mistaken policy, but those who cannot appreciate the equity of our proposal are blind, not only to their own welfare, but to that of their children, of the country of their birth or adoption, and of the Empire, of which we form a part, and upon which the sun never sets. Without population in this country we cannot make our position secure, and unless we gain, access to the land we cannot increase our population under such conditions as will tend to the solidity of the community. If we do not take time by the forelock,, and introduce the reforms necessary to make ourselves secure before the time of trouble arrives, it. will be useless afterwards, for the purposes pf security, to demand that the . sliprails shall be pulled down, and that the people shall have access to the large estates, so that they may be developed for the benefit of the community as a whole. It is because I feel that there is no time to be lost that I am . speaking so earnestly this evening. I represent a country district in which the pastoralists and farmers form a large element in the population, and I rake the risk of their disapproving of my conduct, because my whole concern is the welfare of the country pf my adoption. I venture to say that if the right honorable member for East Sydney were placed in my position, he would be the last person in the world to take such . a risk as that to which I am exposing myself. I find that the cancer of land monopoly has already worked serious evil in South Australia. Outside the towns and corporations in that State there are 304 taxpayers who own 3,545,000 acres of land. I wish to emphasize the fact that the land to which I have been referring is the very pick of our territory. . What is left has been practically cast aside by those who have skilfully picked the eyes out of the country. In addition to the 304 landholders I have mentioned, there axe thirty others who own 1,269,704 acres. Why, this is enough to make those who believe in equitable government sound the death-knell of land alienation. Western Australia, although scarcely out of its swaddlingclothes as a progressive State, has also suffered from the operations of land monopoly. When I was recently visiting that State, it was obvious to any observant man that the land monopolists had been very active. 1 find that 11,558,308 acres have been alienated. The Government have leased 135,854,318 acres, and there remains unoccupied an area - much of which is useless, and will remain so for many years, owing to its distance from means of communication - of 473,176,174 acres. When we turn to Tasmania, a small island whose area is a mere nothing as compared with that of the other States, we find that it has suffered from the curse of land monopoly to such an extent that its growth has been strangled. The members of the community generally, apart from the landowning class, have had to bear heavy taxation, and the national debt has assumed altogether abnormal proportions, owing to the influence of the owners of large estates, who have escaped scot-free. Many people ask how this land monopoly has been brought about. In New South Wales it has been due largely to the class of legislators who have framed the laws. Much of the Crown lands have been acquired by dummying conditional leases and purchases, and through the instrumentality of volunteer land grants. Altogether, the administration of the land laws was carried on without any consideration for the rights of the masses of the people at a time when they were not strong enough to raise their voice in protest. Now that we are endeavouring to right the wrong that has been done, in. order that our children, shall not suffer to a far greater extent even than we are now doing, we are met by a howl of execration from those who are opposed to any interference with their friends, the monopolists. I think that those who have enriched themselves in the past by exploiting the public lands, should rest satisfied, and restore to the community that which has been improperly taken from them. Th'c honorable member for North Sydney suggested that the remedy for the! present trouble was resumption of private lands by the State. He said that we should pur-' chase the land from the present holders at a reasonable price. I hold, however, that there is grave danger of introducing corruption into our public life if we adopt any such policy as that indicated. We should not entertain the idea of buying back land at valuations fixed by biased landlords, and subject only to the. review of an influenced- board of arbitration, or of a Parliament which has been prompted by various motives in the past to part with the public estate. The very first resumption of private lands by the State that took place in New South Wales gave rise to a grave scandal. The whole of the facts were investigated by a Royal Commission, but the matter has not been brought to a conclusion, because the culprits have yet to answer for their misdeeds. I was pre-, sent in the New South Wales Parliament when the Bill for the resumption of the Myall Creek Estate was under consideration, and I did not hear any question raised as to whether the price proposed to be paid by the Government was excessive. The silence was most ominous, and will never be forgotten by me, because I am fully cognisant of the duty which a public man has to perform when such matters are being discussed. The Judge who presided over the inquiry into the circumstances connected with the purchase of the land said that the State made a good bargain. He was, of course, guided entirely by the evidence, and I am not sure that he was competent to express an opinion upon the real merits of the case. The land is situated in my electorate, and I know all about it, and I am not satisfied that, as the years roll on, those who have settled upon it will agree that a good bargain was made by the State. Large estates are sometimes acquired, with a view to subdivision, by syndicates, who do not care what becomes of the man on the land, or in what areas the land is taken over from them.. All that they desire is to make a profit. The proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney is a most delusive one, and would not effect the object that we have in view, namely, that of placing people on the land. I know of one large estate in my own district which has been subdivided with a view to its being more closely settled. It has an area of 40,000 acres, and comprises some of the best farming land in that part of the country. Four hundred acres of such land would be sufficient to support in comfort a man with a large family ; but, instead of a hundred families being settled on the estate, only eleven new settlers have made their homes there!

That . is what has been accomplished, in one instance, by means of closer settlement. " What became of the rest of the estate?" some honorable members may inquire. It was purchased by land monopolists from speculative motives. They bought it in thehope that at a later stage they would be able to lease it to the men who will have to occupy it. Thus, in getting rid of one landlord, we have practically increased the number of landlords tenfold. That is the remedy which has been suggested by the honorable member for Grampians and the honorable member for North Sydney. The former stated that the man who purchased a subdivision block in Victoria would be disappointed if he did not clear its value by the results of his labour within three years. Other members say they have known of cases in which the primary cost of the land has been cleared in one year. Why? Simply because the men who sold it did not realize its productive capacity. Had they known that one crop wouldyield sufficient return to pay for the purchase of the land they would not have parted with it.


Mr Skene - But a man may hold more land than he can put under crop. That is why people can obtain it upon those terms. A man cannot put 20,000 acres under crop.


Mr WEBSTER - I am very pleased to hear that there is something which the landed classes cannot do. But I would ask the honorable member why they cannot put even 50,000 acres under crop? Simply because they do not care to pay a living wage to the men who would be required to perform the work.


Mr Skene - That is not correct. Does the honorable member say that they could get the labour with which to do it?


Mr WEBSTER - Ifthe land-owner were prepared to pay a living wage to his men, there would be no reason why he could not put 50,000 acres under crop.


Mr Skene - I am afraid that the honorable member does not know much about the matter".


Mr WEBSTER - That is what we are always told when we hit our opponents on a soft spot. I know as much about the land question as does the honorable member. I was born upon the land, and when I was only in my teens I was compelled to earn my living in a country where they understood how to farm scientifically.


Mr Skene - I hope that the rest of the honorable member's argument is sounder than that.


Mr Kelly - That is a vicious attack.


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable member for Wentworth is no judge. I recognise that the honorable member for Grampians usually understands what he is talking about. But to-night he is a bit off.


Mr Poynton - He is not a bad sort.


Mr WEBSTER - That is what is said about all the landlords in England.


Mr Poynton - But the honorable member recognises that there is a difference between the individual who works the land for himself and the man who hasto pay wages to get it worked ?


Mr WEBSTER - I do.


Mr Skene - I think that the honorable member for Grey knows more about the matter than does the honorable member for Gwydir.


Mr WEBSTER - That is not the question. I must ask the honorable member for Grampians not to double-bank me.


Mr Poynton - Why does not the honorable member point out the weakness of the scheme of the honorable member for Grampians ?


Mr WEBSTER - I am doing so. His idea is that if landed proprietors would subdivide their holdings, there would be no occasion for us to resort to a progressive land-tax.


Mr Poynton - But would not an increased demand for land increase its value ?


Mr WEBSTER - Undoubtedly. That is the weakness of the scheme. We must recognise that there are lean seasons as well as fat seasons in Australia. I represent a constituency in which it is possible for men engaged in the production of wool to clear off the cost of their holdings in two years if they enjoy good seasons. It is most productive country. But the pleasure which they derive in securing these large profits is as nothing compared with the torture which they undergo when they are endeavouring to save their stock from the devastating effects of drought. So far, there has been no real settlement in Australia. The scheme of the honorable member for Grampians is a gamble, and it is with a view to remove that form of gamble from our midst that the Labour Party are advocating the proposal which I am urging to-night. Of course, I am aware that our opponents say that we wish to interfere with State rights. They declare that the land ques. lion belongs to the States. To me, it is perfectly clear that the individual who raises that cry is an enemy to reform. There is not a State Parliament in Australia to-day which can pass a progressive land tax, no matter how urgently it may be desired by its people.


Mr Hutchison - That is why our opponents say that it is a State question.


Mr WEBSTER - Exactly.


Mr Poynton - And we are told that they are the only people who have a stake in the country.


Mr WEBSTER - The man who has a wife and family has a bigger stake. This matter has been talked about, in the States for the past twelve years, but in no instance has the Legislative Council - the House of landlords - sanctioned the imposition of more than a mere apology for the progressive land tax. Thev have thrown out land taxation proposals without consideration, and have practically shown that as long as they exist the landlordism of the Commonwealth is safe in its monopoly.


Mr Poynton - There is a land tax in operation in Victoria.


Mr WEBSTER - It is a mongrel taxan absolute mockery. Although, as the result of Government action and private enterprise, some 448,000 acres in Victoria have been subdivided during the last four years, the number of estates is greater than before. The reason for this is that the monopolist has come in and bought up some of the land so dealt with. Others speculate in land, and put tenants upon their holdings. That is what has taken place under the system that is advocated by the honorable member for Grampians and the honorable member for North Sydney.


Mr Poynton - lt is due to the fact that the farmers are allowed to obtain the fee-simple of the land.


Mr WEBSTER - It is because the people cannot help themselves. It is hopeless to expect action to be taken by the States Parliaments in the direction that our .party propose. Even if it were possible for land taxation to be imposed by some of the States Legislatures, it would be unwise to leave this task to them, since our desire is to populate Australia, and not to populate one State at the expense of another. If a land tax were imposed in New South

Wales, with the result that various large estates were offered for closer settlement, we should have farmers hurrying there from Victoria, South Australia,' and other States. We desire to give effect to a policy that will apply equally to all parts of the Commonwealth. We desire a tax that will cause the sliprails of ' large estates to be thrown down, so that the sons of our farmers and their dependents may go upon them. We desire, also, that, the people, of the old world who come here, bringing money and experience with them, shall have an opportunity to assist in laving the foundation of a strong and healthy yeomanry. It is because we believe that State legislation in this direction would be ineffective, that we advocate a Federal progressive lar.r) tax. We shall secure such a tax when the electors do their duty, and relieve us of the presence in this House of those who either do not understand or refuse to understand the true interests of the people. When the Parliament of the Commonwealth recognises its full power - when if recognises the shallow mockery of the proposals of the Opposition - it will pass land tax legislation that will be effective. We desire to meet the legitimate demand for land. Whenever a desirable block of land is thrown open for settlement in New South Wales it is_ sought for by men who travel miles in the hope of securing it. After all, it is only a chance; it is very much' like taking a ticket in one of Tattersall's consultations in the hope of drawing the winning marble. Only by mere chance can a citizen! in New South' Wales secure a piece of land on which to make a home for himself and his family.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the last five years during which according to their boast, the honorable member and his colleagues ran the Government of New South Wales, 4,000,000 acres of land were alienated.


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable member is once more resorting to his cunning tactics, but I am not going To run over the rail that he has put down. I have known of men who saved .£400 or .£500, and who. in their desire to secure a block of land on which, to make a home, travelled from town to town until their means were exhausted, and were then left landless and moneyless.


Sir John Forrest - Western Australia gives 160 acres for nothing.


Mr WEBSTER - I have seen some of the land there, and am of opinion that Western Australia is prepared to give away that which she cannot sell.

SirJohn Forrest. - There is plenty of good land.


Mr WEBSTER - The Midland Company has some of the best land in Western Australia. Its holdings represent a gigantic grab made in the early days. The land which the Government of Western Australia are prepared to give away is of no value.

SirJohn Forrest. - It is being taken up by large numbers of people.


Mr WEBSTER - How could men be expected to go into some parts of that land of sand and blight?


Mr Poynton - There are forests there.


Mr WEBSTER - And a monopoly is now denuding those forests more rapidly than any similar territory has been stripped of its timber. The remarks which I have made in regard to the demand for land in New South Wales will apply also to Victoria. In Queensland there is still an opportunity to secure good land, because the whole of it has not yet fallen into the hands of monopolists. The desire of the Labour Party in proposing a Federal land tax is to secure closer settlement in all the States. If a holding of 50,000 acres be subdivided, and settled by 100 families, other employment is created. Roads and bridges are needed, and railway and telephonic extensions axe demanded. Then, again, co-operation can be induced, not only in working the land, but in distributing its products, and in this way great economies can be effected. Mildura furnishes an illustration of what a number of settlers living in close proximity can do by co-operation in the marketing of their products. I could talk for hours if it were necessary on the benefits to be derived from closer settlement. When water conservation is required to-day an appeal is made to the Government to come to the rescue of the people. Sometimes the Government are unable to do so, but this difficulty would be overcome as the result of closer settlement. The people so settled on the land would take care to conserve God's precious fluid,' and so use it that the pastoral lands of Victoria and other States would bring forth crops that would enrich the people and gladden the hearts of tillers of the soil. I have already incidentally referred to another aspect of the subject. The vast territory which constitutes this Commonwealth is populated by a little over 4,000,000 persons - men, women, and children.


Mr Brown - A large proportion of whom are sweated and starving.


Mr WEBSTER - Where should we be if national danger arose? Land and property are of little value, unless those who hold them have some security in their possession, and know that they will not be taken away by an invading, victorious foe. When troubles ariseit will be the men who are paying tribute to landlords who will be asked to fight the battles of the country. In the interests of our children, the custodians of whose rights and liberties we are, I appeal to Parliament and to the country to adopt a policy which will provide for the protection, as well as the continuous development of the nation. We cannot fight without soldiers.


Mr Hutchison - There are 22,000 Hindoos, kanakas, and other coloured aliens in Queensland who might be called upon to do some of the fighting.


Mr WEBSTER - I would not trust a coloured man to defend my children ; I would rather try to defend them myself. We wish the country to develop in every direction, and yet are not prepared to adopt that policy which is best calculated to promote development. The Minister of Defence is afraid to move, because of the strong grip that Parliament has on him, and honorable members object to the spending of a large amount to provide armaments and equipments for defence against invasion. Why cannot we do what is necessary for our proper defence? It is because we have not sufficient population. The heritage of the people is monopolized by a few, so that their lands are not producing what they should produce. If we settled our country, allowing our peopleto establish homes therein,the community would benefit by the increased circulation of wealth which their industry would create. Let us throw down the slip-rails, and let the people on the land.Let us settle them on the country through which our railways pass, and close to our markets. In this way our lands will be developed to the fullest extent, bringing forth plentiful harvests, and the Commonwealth will prosper and proceed steadily on the road to nationhood. We must put aside all fallacies, all myths, all delusive proposals of politicians who from time immemorial have been bandying words on such questions as freetrade and protection. We must get down to bed-rock. We must dig out the cancer which is preying upon our social system, so that the organism may have a chance to recover its health, and to grow strong. I am not appealing to men of money, to the landholders, or to the bankers of this country ; I am speaking to the workers, in the interests of our children, and of those who are yet unborn. I want the land for the landless and the landless for the land. That is the policy which we must inscribe upon the flag which we nail to our mast. Without such a policy the country cannot progress as a young country should. The large estates which are now held by a few are strangling development. They are preventing the progress of districts, decimating towns and villages, depopulating the country, and driving those who should be settled upon the land into the already over-crowded cities. This is a rotten state of affairs, and the party which has the courage to try to reform it, notwithstanding the opposition of vested interests, is undertaking a noble cause. By carrying out reforms we shall benefit Australia, the glorious Empire upon which the sun never sets, of which we are a part, and humanity at large. But we shall do this only if we have the courage of our opinions, standing by them and fighting for them, until people are convinced of the wisdom of our proposals, and a prosperity follows our efforts four times as great as that which has resulted in New Zealand from the actions of Mr. Ballance and Mr. Seddon. We must not be triflers, playing on political harps to the delusion of our fellow citizens, but must tread the thorny path of duty, urging always the interests of the people, and ready at all times to defend their rights and liberties.







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