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Friday, 10 August 1906


Mr HUGHES (West Sydney)

But for some remarks made by the leader of the Opposition as to the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament in relation to direct taxation, and particularly in regard to certain proposals made by the Labour Partv in connexion therewith, I should not have addressed myself to this question, since we shall have another opportunity later on to deal with the details of the Budget. Although I was not present at the time, I understand that the right honorable gentleman stated this morning that he believes thoroughly in the principle of land taxation, but considers that the proposal of the Labour Party to apply that principle is an outrage on the Constitution. It certainly appears to me that such language is not warranted by any section of the Constitution. At page551 of Quick and Garran's Annotated Constitution, the power of the Parliament in regard to taxation, and the restraints upon that power, are set forth, and, although I have very carefully looked through that work, and also through the debates at the Federal Convention held in Melbourne, I can find no mention of any restraint on land taxation by the Federal Parliament. The right honorable gentleman's attitude, while not at all curious, is rather suggestive. He says that he believes in the principle, but disbelieves in our method of applying it. He makes this statement at a time when, with . two exceptions, there is not the remotest possibility of any of the States Governments proposing a tax upon unimproved land values. . It is perfectly safe for the right honorable member to pose in New South Wales as an advocate of land values taxation through the medium of the States, since he knows very well that the Government of that State is opposed to such a tax. I understand, also, that there is little, if anv, likelihood of such a proposal being carried into effect in Victoria, except by the Labour Party. I need hardly point out that there never was much probability of such a tax 'being imposed in Tasmania, whilst if land value taxation were passed by the Parliament of Queensland or South Australia it would in either case also be through the medium of the Labour Partv. The right honorable gentleman declares that he is in favour of the principle, but he is the leader of a party which throughout the Commonwealth is most vehemently opposing it. I shall never permit him to parade as a man who is in favour of this principle while he is the leader of such a. partv, which, by virtue of its necessities, its open professions, and its notorious intentions, is opposed to it. The leader of the Opposition savs that the principle is sound'. He told the honorable member for Gwvdir that he was entirelv jn svmoathv with his endeavour to burst up big estates, but yet we find him leading a partv whose sole reason for existence is that thev have set their faces against any interference with vested interests in the Commonwealth. The right honorable gentleman now attempts to pose - with a shadow of that wreath which he wore around his brow, when some ten years ago he favoured land value taxation - to pose as the leader of men who have advocated that principle, and yet we find him and his party being supported by those who wish things to remain as they are. What, then, becomes of the honorable member's objection to the proposal of the Labour Party, that it is an outrage upon 'the Constitution, but that if such a proposal were made in a State Parliament he would ardently advocate it? I do not hesitate to say that the same men who are behind the right honorable gentleman to-day will be behind every movement for reaction throughout the Commonwealth, whether it be in the municipal, Federal, or State sphere. There is -but one party now - the great Anti-Socialist Party, the party of vested interests - and the right honorable member! for East Sydney has been selected as the most effective instrument to accomplish their purpose, which is, in so many words, to " leave things as they are." They think that this ds the best of all possible worlds. These men who have great interests in this country, who count their possessions, not by hundreds, but by thousands and' tens of thousands, declare there is no necessity for change. It is quite true we "have an overflowing Treasury, but by a singular and sinister coincidence, on the very day that the Treasurer ' told us that we were or. the crest ' of a wave of magnificent prosperity, an evening newspaper published a ' report of the direst' distress iii this great city. Unhappily, it is not confined to this city. You can find it in Sydney, Brisbane, and the other large cities of the Commonwealth ; but it is not even confined to the cities. Were it not for the fact that thousands of men are able to make a living by trapping rabbits, the distress in the country would be deplorable. In the face, of these facts, the right honorable gentleman says that the proposal of the Labour Party to impose a land tax, thought he is in favour of the principle, is an outrage upon the Constitution. He knows that the principle, so far "as the' States are concerned, is in arti'culo mortis, that not a State in the Commonwealth has any present intention to give effect to it. If it were put into effect by any State, it would be a State in which the Labour Party, which he denounces and intends to annihilate, if the gods will, at the next election, has the control of affairs. Half the alienated land of New South Wales is in the hands of a little more than 700 persons, and yet he says that we are to do nothing. He is leading an army whose watchword at the next election will be " Do nothing." Their whole policy is to crush the La"bour Party, whose one offence is that they propose the imposition of a tax on the unimproved value of land, for the purpose of bursting up the big; estates.


Mr Lonsdale - That proposal is a pure sham, a piece of political hypocrisy.


Mr HUGHES - The simile of Satan reproving sin fails to express my surprise at an interjection of that sort from the honorable member. Until now, he has been an unceasing advocate of the great principle of land value taxation.


Mr Lonsdale - I still am; but I advocate an honest land tax.


Mr HUGHES - The honorable member is allied with a party whose one principle it is that no attack shall be made upon the vested land interests of the country. The right honorable member for East Sydney affects to regard our proposals as unconstitutional, while some of his followers take exception to the method of their proposed application. Some of them say that the tax would be a good one if there were no exemptions, some that the rate should be higher, and others that the rate should be lower. The right honorable member must bear on his shoulders responsibility, not only for what he himself says in regard to this matter, but also for what the members of his party say. Their views arte being scattered broadcast over the country, through the medium of the daily press, which declares that the intention of the Labour Party is nothing; more nor less than the first step towards the confiscation of all property. I shall not be silent under such an imputation, nor do I think that it comes well from the right honorable member, seeing that through him the Labour Party in New South Wales obtained their opportunity to put into force an infinitely more severe tax than that which they now propose.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A more severe tax?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - TheNew South Wales tax is only id. in the £1.


Mr HUGHES - It is a matter of figures, and if honorable members trouble to make the necessary calculation, they will see that my statement is correct. The exemption in New South Wales applies to land not exceeding ^240 in value ; but the rate actually imposed on all land exceeding that value makes the tax up to, say, ^20,000 infinitely more severe than that which the Labour Party now propose. .


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - is the proposed tax to take the place of the existing tax?


Mr HUGHES - No. We propose to do that which the honorable, member for Parramatta was at one time . prepared to do - to make the new taxation additional to the present tax. The honorable member at one time did not propose to stand, like Lot's wife, immovable. The imposition of a id. land tax was to be the first step in a glorious career. Now, however, he goes pale and cold when the subject is mentioned, and looks back upon the step which he took as, perhaps, a false one, but certainly as the only step which he will take. My position is different. After an interval of twelve years, I think that it is time to take another step, which I am prepared to defend on the grounds whereon I defended the first'" step. We were told then we were undermining the Constitution, and that the forces of society would rise up and\ crush us. I remember how the right honorable member's supporters looked with approval when he waved his arms defiantly towards the serried phalanx of Legislative Councillors sitting behind the Bar. But those men, who represent the vested interests of New South Wales, are now his staunchest friends. He tells us, and would have the country believe, that he is the same old George in this matter, and, if he had his way, would impose a land tax ; but, by a stroke of malign fate, he finds himself in a sphere in which it is not constitutional to do so. But this is a device as old as the hills. The enemies of reform never meet the reformers straight out. From the beginning, the reformer has had to fear, not the blow of the broadsword of the soldier, but the stiletto of the assassin. In New South Wales, where 700 men own one-half of the alienated land, there are 500,000 landless persons out of a population of 700,000 adults.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - New South Wales has a Closer Settlement Act.


Mr HUGHES - Can we consider the situation calmly when we know that immi grants are avoiding Australia because, as Mr. Coghlan, an impartial critic, declares, there is no suitable land available for immigrants here. The people of New South Wales can obtain, land for closer settlement only by putting their hands into their pockets and buying back at high rates what in many cases was filched fi om them. What is at the back of the New South Wales land scandals? Is there not some sinister and powerful influence which no man has the courage to attack or the power to overcome ?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those who were at the back of them were the members of the Government supported by the party to which the honorable and learned member belongs.


Mr HUGHES - By what party are they supported now, when some of the figureheads stand exposed to the gaze of an accusing and disgusted world?


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member helped to put into office the Ministers who have been responsible for these scandals.


Mr HUGHES - My offence in the eyes of the honorable member is that I turned him out, not that I put them in. Even if I did as he alleges, is .he prepared to say that, while I was in the New South Wales Parliament, the Government of the day were guilty of the actions of which so much has been heard? The evidence taken, before the Royal Commission does not show that that is so. The honorable member was a colleague of several of the members of the present New South Wales Government, but does he therefore hold himself responsible for all that they have done ? Not at all. Why, then, should I be held responsible for all that the honorable, member declares the Labour Party of New South Wales- have done? Why should I bear their alleged sins? I am dealing now with facts. It is a fact that! there are 500,000 landless persons in New South Wales in a population of 700,000 adults. The Labour Party proposes to give them a chance to obtain land ; but the leade'r of the Opposition says that, in doing so, we are going outside our sphere. Our sphere is to do good, in the world, and to break down monopolies.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When there was a proposal to uncover these scandals, the honorable and learned member's colleagues, including the honorable member for Gwydir, voted against it.


Mr Webster - Because it was a pretence and a hollow mockery, as the honorable member is.


Mr HUGHES - I do not profess to be conversant with all that has occurred in the New South Wales Parliament since I ceased to be a member of that body, nor is it pertinent to my argument. I am not, nor is my party, any more to blame for certain action taken by some members of the New South Wales Parliament who belong to the Labour Party, than is the honorable member for the actions of other persons in the New South Wales Parliament who belong to his party. All I know is that the right honorable member for East Sydney is in this Parliament, with the honorable member for Parramatta and others behind him, and that he is now opposing the only system by which land monopoly can be broken down. He tells us that we are going beyond our sphere. But I contend that that is not constitutionally true. . Moreover, I declare that it will not be inexpedient to do as we propose. We have been asked by all the States to do something to attract immigrants to this country, and we are requested by our own people, who are every day crying out for land, to do something to burst up the big estates. The right honorable member for East Sydney says that he believes in obtaining the land that we require in a legitimate way. Is that which we propose an illegitimate way ? The right honorable gentleman is the very man who started this brand of illegitimacy when he introduced his land value taxation measure in New South Wales.


Mr Wilks - The same principle was in operation in South Australia before that.


Mr HUGHES - It is all the same. He either established the system, or 'he followed the example of South Australia. Now, however, he declares that it is illegitimate. I contend that it is the most legitimate and effective method of bursting up the big estates, and I affirm, moreover, that it will do no harm to any one except to those who are gorged to the maw with land which they neither use themselves nor permit others to use. When honorable members opposite speak of the ruin that is to be wrought by means of taxation proposals such as we contemplate, I presume that they refer to the 722 large landholders in New South Wales, who own the best lands of Australia. However, I shall say no more upon that mat ter. I am content with having shown that the right honorable member for East Sydney, when lie talks about our proposal as being outside the sphere of Federal politics, is saying that which is absolutely unwarranted. As a lawyer, he must know that no land in this country was ever sold outright, but that the Crown has always the right of eminent domain. He knows, further, that he is perfectly safe in advocating land value taxation, whilst, at the same time, he is doing all he can to " down " the party that is in favour of it. Those gentlemen who call themselves single-taxers are allied to the party whose whole intent and purpose is to bolster up the man who has the land, and to " down " the party which means to tax it. Under these circumstances, we cannot believe that these singletaxers are earnestly desirous to apply the principle of land taxation without exemption. If objection is taken to the method of the proposed taxation on the ground that the land should be taxed without exemption, why do not honorable members introduce a counter proposal? I declare that if they introduce a proposal better than ours we shall go over bodily and support their scheme. Our one object is to burst up the big estates.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the honorable member vote to do away with the exemption?


Mr HUGHES - On that bright and shining morning when the honorable member shall move in this House that land taxation without exemption shall be the method by which the Commonwealth, shall obtain her revenue or burst up the big estates, he will find - if lie has the courage to call for a division - that I am sitting beside him. I always have been, and always shall be, in favour of that. But since we believe that it would be an admirable thing to burst up the big estates, and think that a man has enough when, he holds land worth ,£5,000, we propose to tax all those whose holdings exceed that value. How much would a man with £10,000 worth of land have to pay by way of taxation under the proposed scheme? I have here a newspaper article which contains an extract from a circular issued by a Mr. Cameron, in connexion with the Queensland Anti- Socialistic League. He says -

I need hardly point out the necessity for action to be taken in this matter (Federal Land Tax). Already the Federal Premier, Mr. Deakin, urged thereto by the leader of the

Labour Party in the Federal Legislature, lias expressed his approval to the introduction of a Federal Land Tax. .

That is news to me, but no doubt it is all right.

It is suggested that the amount of this tax should be is. in the £1.

That is the usual exaggeration.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Bland stated that, if necessary, he would impose a tax of is. in the pound.


Mr Webster - He is not the Labour Party.


Mr HUGHES - I am not responsible for what the honorable member for Bland may have said.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is the leader of the Labour Party.


Mr Fisher - He has never fathered the statement.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes he has. He did so at the Sydney Labour Conference.


Mr Fisher - He was misreported.


Mr HUGHES - The anti-socialistic circular to which I have referred contains the following table: -

 

That would be for a farm of 80 acres. The persons who compiled the circular must have known full well that no land tax was levied by the State Government of Queensland, and that it was not proposed to levy the Federal land "tax upon anv property, the unimproved value of which was less than £5,000, and that, moreover, the proposed tax. was to be½d. in the £1, and not is. in the £.1. I do not hesitate to declare that the attitude assumed by the right honorable member . for East Svdnev would not deceive an infant. He stands here now as the avowed opponent of land value taxation, as the avowed champion of vested interests, and >the avowed selected champion of the anti-Socialist Party, and by no twisting or manoeuvring can he get out of that position. We pin fiim down to that. He is the declared enemy to the re form movement in Australia, and by that he must stand or fall at the next election.







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