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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- It is refreshing to hear the statement of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), in presenting his first financial statement since his recent appointment, that he intends bringing forward the Budget by the end of August. If the Minister is able to keep his promise, he will deserve the congratulations of every honorable member. We have, however, had similar promises in the past, and, as they have not been fulfilled, one is somewhat dubious in accepting them.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I think we can do it.

Mr CHARLTON - I am glad to have the Treasurer's assurance to that effect. It is the duty of the Treasurer, if he possibly can, to bring down the Budget at the earliest possible moment to enable honorable members to discuss the Estimates in a proper way. In the past it has been the policy of the Government to go on spending the' money and passing Supply Bills, and when the Estimates were being dealt with we found that the financial year had practically expired. It is unreasonable to, ask a deliberative assembly such as this to adopt such a practice, and, as conditions are becoming normal, there is no justification for the Government to act in that way.

I desire to take this opportunity of placing before the Treasurer the necessity of the Government making some declaration concerning our Income Tax Act, as the time has surely arrived when it should be amended. Since the Act was passed the cost of living has increased by approximately 70 per cent., and it is time some relief was given to the poorer people of the community. ' If at the commencement of the war in 1914 we fixed the exemption at £156 when the cost of living was 7.0 per cent. less than it is to-day, there is every reason why Parliament should amend the Act to relieve the heavy imposition which is placed on those in the community who can ill afford to pay. In many cases men are finding great difficulty in providing for their families, and we are still continuing to collect income tax from these people, notwithstanding the fact that it has been declared that the basic wage shall be £3 17s. 2d. per week, which amounts, Toughly, to £190 per annum. If it takes £190 per annum to enable a man to live, surely it is not fair to say that for every £3 he receives in excess of £156the exemption shall be reduced by £1.We have also to consider the position of single men who, under the Act of 1916, have an exemption of £100, which is reduced by £1 for every £4 received over that amount. When the Bill was before this Chamber in 1915 I suggested that the exemption should not be less than £200, and it should not have been. At present the exemption should not be less than £250, in view of thechanged conditions . Already income tax forms have been circulated, and in the course of a few months the taxation officials will be making the necessary assessments. Unless the Government decide on an amendment this taxation will again be collected from people who, as I have said,are hardly able to pay it; and that is not a fair position in which to put them.

We are told that there is £550,000,000 or £560,000,000 representing income which is not taxable at all; and this means that there are very many rich people who escape. Of course, much of this is due to legislation we have passed here exempting the interest on some of the loans, but I contend that it is not fair to exempt people who are wealthy, and at the same time tax those who are really in destitute circumstances.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - We can only alter the position in regard to loan interest by altering the Constitution.

Mr CHARLTON - I know we have given our word in that regard.

Sib Joseph Cook. - I mean that constitutionally we cannot tax State securities.

Mr CHARLTON - Is the whole of this £550,000,000 represented by State securities ?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - State securities represent £400,000,000 and our own securities £150,000,000.

Mr CHARLTON - I think that if the matter were closely investigated we should find that some of it is not represented by exempt income from loan - that possibly a good deal belongs to people in affluent circumstances who escape taxation.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I have no doubt that there is a good deal of income which never pays any taxation.

Mr CHARLTON - That does not detract from my argument that' the poorer people should have some relief.

In my opinon the cost of the war should be met by means of a sinking fund created out of income taxation. I believe it was estimated that the raising of the exemption from £156 to £200 would affect the revenue by about 5 per cent. ; and if the extension of the exemption to £250 were taken to represent a difference of 10 per cent., the amount necessary to make up the deficiency should be collected on incomes over that amount on a graduated scale; in other words, I would collect the money required for the purpose of paying the interest on the money -borrowed to carry on the war, from those best able to pay it. When we were at war we all desired to do our utmost to further the interests of the Commonwealth and of the Allied cause, and we borrowed this money; and it is only fair that those who made money during the war should do the most towards liquidating the debt. It cannot be doubted that there are some people who made more money in consequence of the war than they ever made in their lives before. . Those who follow the share market reports in the newspapers must see that there are many companies throughout Australia which during the last four or five years have placed large sums to reserve, with the result that to-day they are reconstructing. These companies paid good dividends while the war was on, and now, with the money placed to reserve, they are giving further shares to their shareholders. This plainly indicates that these companies have made more money than they were entitled to make because of the war, and the Treasury ought to be able to lay its hands on some of it; otherwise we may look for disaster in the near future, or, at any rate, some trouble. We see fictitious capital being created in almost every business concern; and one result will be that, when the employees come to discuss the question of wages, it will be pointed out that on the capital shown only so much interest is being earned, though, perhaps, not a fourth of that capital is genuine, and the men on this plea will be denied a proper return for their labour. The people who are making all this money ought to be called upon to pay more than they do in taxation, until we reduce our war debt.

It is not fair that the boys who fought for us while we remained in perfect security at home should be called upon to pay income tax, with the small exemption I have mentioned, when they return to civil life. In my opinion the returned soldier ought to be altogether exempt, and I have a letter here from the Newcastle Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, putting their views on the point-

At a general meeting of this league the following resolution was carried unanimously, and I was requested to forward same to you with the request that you do your best to assist us in this matter: - " That we, the returned, men of the Newcastle district, emphasize our strong protest against the levy of income tax being directed against returned men; and that we, as a body, consider that we should be exempt from the claims of income tax from any amount realized by personal exertion up to' £250; and that we request that further consideration be given to this matter, the result of such consideration to be immediately forwarded to this district."

Thanking you for your past endeavours to assist us, and trusting you will take this matter up at your earliest convenience. Evidently the members of the League think they ought not to be taxed for the debt incurred during the war, but they are prepared to pay on a basis of a £250 exemption; and I regard that as a fair suggestion. Time is fleeting, and unless the Government take some action these men will have to pay on the present basis next year. There are many people who receive assessment notices for £2 or £3, and are unable to find the money without allowing their other hills to go unpaid. That was never intended; it was always thought that the tax would be collected1 on incomes over a living wage; and I mention the matter to enable the Treasurer to give some consideration to it before this session closes.

In the Postal Service there are many men who saw service during the war, and I have had complaints' from them to the effect that they are unable to get higher classification. A little time ago the Postmaster.General (Mr. Wise) informed me, in reply to a question, that modified examinations had been arranged for the purpose df allowing these men to improve their positions; but I have a letter from one of them, who points out that he and others find it absolutely impossible to pass this test. .The effects of the war on them are such that they are no longer able to devote themselves to the necessary study, although they can do the practical work with every satisfaction to the authorities. The letter is as follows: - <

I desire to draw attention to what I consider to be the very unfair treatment I have received as an employee of the Postal Department.

I enlisted in 1915 having then completed about six years of satisfactory service in the Postal Department. I was with the A.I.F. for about four years, and then resumed duty at the Newcastle Post-office, in October, 1919.

I am now a married man, and receive an annual salary of £150 and £12 war bonus.

It had been promised that a modified examination to enable soldier employees to enter the Clerical Branch of the Service would be held on our return from the war, but, up to the present, I understand only one has been held, and that one some years ago.

I have certainly suffered because of my loyalty to my country. Pour years of service have not improved my chances of promotion. I am receiving considerably less than the- living wage. Had I stayed at home, I would have had many opportunities of securing promotion within and without the Service.

I have wondered if you would be good enough to draw attention in the House to these facts. Perhaps you would compare our position, and the treatment we have received, with that of the State school teachers of New South Wales.

In the case of the teachers they have received, and justly so, a rise in classification, which will save them years of study, and, in most cases, give an important rise in salary.

In the case , of the Postal employee - even when his services, both in the .Postal Department and in the A.I.F. have been satisfactory - he finds there is no promotion and no prospects.

I will be pleased to provide you, either by letter or at a personal interview, with any other details.

I do not wish to occupy your time with matters of no importance; but, believing that you are a true friend of " The Diggers," I am appealing to you, .and I am. sure that you will do what you can to see that justice is done to those who have loyally served their country.

I think that, when one's Postal service has been satisfactory, he should be promoted to the Clerical Division upon his return from the war without further examination, as in the case of the soldier teachers.

There is a good deal to be said for these young fellows who enlisted at about nineteen years of age, when their minds were such that they could sit down and study for the purpose of passing examinations, but who, on their return, after three or four years on the battlefield, subject to all the disabilities of war, find it impossible, generally speaking, to settle down to studies. The result is that they cannot pass their examinations. If they can do the practical work required of them, we ought to be able to make some provision for them. Otherwise they will be obliged to remain in their present positions without any chance of rising. I do not claim that they should receive preference, and be put over others -who are equally capable, but' we should not impose upon them the necessity to pass the examination we would expect them to pass if they had not gone to the war. We ought to let these returned men know that we are desirous of doing all we can for them. They are beginning to believe that we have forgotten them. But that is a mistaken idea on their part. We have not forgotten them. Their difficulty is that their sufferings do not come prominently before us. I ask Ministers to take their cases into consideration, and endeavour to deal fairly with them.

I trust that the Budget will be brought down in reasonable time, and that honorable members will have an opportunity of dealing with the Estimates, so that once more we may be a responsible Parliament, which we have not been for the last five or six years. We have been governed by Departments and Executive acts. A return to responsible government can only be brought about by allowing no expenditure before it is approved by the House.

Mr. MARR(Parkes) ' [10.51.- For some time past I have been, complaining that, in the opinion of- the public the nay of men permanently employed m the Defence Department in New South Wales is not commensurate with the duties performed by them. I was pleased to receive a reply from a Minister to the effect that the scale had been altered as from the 1st May. Whether it will meet with the wishes of the men I cannot say, but cases have come under my notice in which a fair living wage has not been paid. A watchman in charge of ordnance stores worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, a permanent man with seventeen years' service, is paid £3 2s. per week, whereas seven or eight men temporarily employed are receiving , the New South Wales standard wage of £3 17s. per week. Saddlers employed bv the Defence Department are not receiving the wages they ought to be. paid. In fact, instead of being the best paid in Australia, the Commonwealth Service is the worst paid. In New South Wales during the last two years there have been sixty-four resignations per month in the Commonwealth Service, and they ar© the best men, and not the worst, who are leaving.

In Australia we are not paying to wireless telegraphy the attention it should receive. Recently there has been a good deal of talk in the House about the application of science to industry ; but although no science lias advanced more rapidly than, has the development of wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony during the last few years, we in Australia are npt making use of it to the extent to which it is employed in other parts of the world. The results achieved during the war in handling this science and the advances made were astounding. In Australia we are years behind the times, but we cannot anticipate any progress in this direction until this branch of work is controlled' by a separate Department. I am opposed, generally speaking, to the establishment of new Government Departments; but I make an exception in regard to wireless telegraphy. It should be the work of a distinct Department. For economy's sake the accountancy work of such a Department might easily be done by the Post and Telegraph Department, the Navy Department, or any other already established branch of the service. At present the Defence Department, the Navy Department, and the Navigation Department deal with wireless telegraphy. The regulations under the Navigation Act, controlling the use of wireless telegraphy on ships, are rotten, and frequently conflict with the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

Vessels cant go to sea and flout the Department, simply because the regulations do not make .provision for everything that ought to be covered. On some of the biggest liners leaving our ports the aerials spread between the masts and the feeder wires foul the funnel. There is often, a piece of rope to keep them away from the funnel, but in, some cases this rope is tied to a lifeboat. If the ship should get into difficulty this rope has to be cut in order to release the lifeboat, immediately causing the feeder wires to get foul of the funnel, and thus straightway the wireless is out of action. However, I shall ' deal with this matter when speaking on the Navigation Bill.

There is another matter to which' I wish to refer, which I am sure is very dear to the hearts of many members of this House, and that is the building of the Federal Capital. When we come to consider the Estimates for the Department that has control of work at the Federal Capital, it is my intention to move that the vote for that Department be reduced by the sum of £1 as a protest against the omission from this Supply Bill of a vote sufficient to begin the erection of the necessary buildings to enable the Seat of Government to be transferred to Canberra. I have noticed that there is a vote set down in connexion with the Works and Railways Department for the erection of a. note-printing establishment in Melbourne. I shall oppose in every way that I can the expenditure of any more money upon the erection of Commonwealth buildings in Melbourne. If wo are to house our departmental officers in permanent buildings, these buildings should be erected at the Federal Capital.

Mr Ryan - The honorable member's announcement is tantamount to a vote of . want of confidence in the Government.

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