Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon W A Watt -It is not competent for the honorable member to discuss the Constitutions of all the Dominions of the British Empire on this Bill.

Mr FENTON - I think I can connect what I am saying with the Bill. Those who are responsible for our Constitution would have saved us a great deal of trouble if they had modelled it more on the lines of the Canadian Constitution. I recall the remarks of General Smuts, when he was consulted in regard to the South African Constitution. When the people of South Africa were considering the framing of a Constitution, many memoranda were forwarded to them by Mr. Deakin, Mr. Glynn, and others, in which they were advised to avoid some of the things we did in framing the Australian Constitution. General Smuts in commenting upon the South African Constitution said, " We have avoided the mistakes of the Australian Constitution, and have taken to ourselves powers that are not possessed by the National Parliament of Australia." Had our Constitution been framed on different lines, we would not be passing legislation such as that now before us. There are different ways of practising economy, and for the economy which takes on the character of parsimony I have no liking. I hold that we shall never have true economy in Australian affairs until the National Parliament is supreme, and the State or provincial authorities are subordinate to the Federal authority. I believe that one of the purposes of this Bill is retrenchment. Honorable members in the Country party comer desire to be able to say that they have effected considerable retrenchment in the Commonwealth Public Service. The parsimonious members of this House will claim to have saved money for the people. They will claim to be responsible for the retrenchment of a number of Commonwealth public servants at a cost of £200,000 or £300,000 by way of compensation, 'when the expenditure of very little more money would keep those officers fully employed in other Departments. Notwithstanding the criticism of the press, and the anxiety of a section in this House, to indulge in what they regard as retrenchment, I say that if the Federal authority had full power to develop on national lines, those who. are to be retrenched might be absorbed in the taxation department, or in other branches of the Public Service, with advantage. It is certain that very little will be saved under this Bill , in the first twelve months. I repeat, that in my opinion, this legislation is premature. The Government desires by passing a certain number of measures to proclaim that they are carrying out great reforms, and making savings. The Treasurer will no doubt tell me that he has the State Treasurers in hand, and they must do what he directs. I can see very little difference between the form now issued for returns of income for Commonwealth taxation and that which will have to be filled up under this Bill.

Dr Earle Page - They are 99 per cent, the same.

Mr FENTON - The honorable gentleman is probably correct in that statement. Those who have to make up returns for State income tax in Victoria are aware that the form which has to be filled in is much more simple than that issued by the Commonwealth Government. Some people would sooner serve six months than write a letter or fill in a taxation schedule, but the filling in of these forms is probably a matter about which a man who is well off does not trouble. He, no doubt, gets a clerk or some one else to do it for him. I admit that I do not take very much trouble in making out my return, and am satisfied so long as I tell the truth. The State and Federal returns have to be sent in about the same time. My practice is to make out the .Federal return in duplicate, and I need then only make a copy of it in filling up the State form. If that practice is generally followed, very little trouble will be saved to the taxpayers in having to fill up but one form. However, the Government is out for retrenchment, and hopes to be able to dispense with the services of a number of persons who are breadwinners in this country, and are doing useful work.

Mr Makin - That is their idea of economy.

Mr FENTON - It is, and I believe it will result in more of hardship than of benefit to the community.

Sitting suspended from 12 o'clock midnight to 1 a.m. (Saturday).

Mr FENTON - When the members of the then Country party were submitting their programme to the electors, they made veiled hints that retrenchment was necessary in the Commonwealth Public Service. Of course, no party -would be bold enough to openly advocate wholesale retrenchment. There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream, and this Bill is an attempt to put into effect the desire of the Country party. The then Leader of the party clothed his language with ambiguity, which made it difficult for the ordinary reader to detect Iris desire for retrenchement; but I honestly believe that that was his intention. We have had the same experience in the past. Premiers of the States have reduced the Public Services, and have suffered in consequence. These things react upon the political party responsible for them. With a little extra expenditure, the officers of the Taxation Department could he retained and utilized in other branches of the Service. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) pointed out the injustice that would be inflicted on these men if they were transferred willy-nilly to State Departments. The privileges of the Public Services differ. The Commonwealth servants have certain privileges, such as the right to appear before the Arbitration Court, that are not enjoyed by State servants.

Dr Earle Page - That is not so in New South Wales; in fact, that Service' confers greater benefits than does the Commonwealth Service.

Mr FENTON - Generally speaking, the Federal Service is superior to the others. Although the Country party contend that the field of income taxation should be relinquished by the Commonwealth in favour of the States, I believe that that section of the composite Government are really out for retrenchment in the Commonwealth Public Service. A grave error is being committed, and a great injustice will be done if the services of these men are dispensed with. Honorable members opposite will say that other men in ordinary employment are dismissed without compensation.

Mr Hill - The man who does his duty always has a difficult time.

Mr FENTON - Sometimes when a man does what he considers to be his duty he makes it very difficult for other people. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman), when speaking the other night at a commercial travellers' gathering, gave expression to opinions that some of us' have held for a number of years. He gave his own view, but not that of the composite Ministry. He said that . in Australia we had too many Governments and too many Governors, and that it would be a good thing for this country if we dispensed with the services of a number of them, and concentrated more upon one Government. Many public speakers, even members of State Parliaments, have stated that the Commonwealth will never be properly managed until the States have less power and the' Commonwealth increased power. This Government take a different view, v

They bow the knee to the god of State rights. They have introduced a measure, and honorable members opposite are supporting it, to hand over to the State authority the collection of all income tax, despite the fact that we have a Federal taxing authority, competent officers, and a Taxation Department that is second to none in Australia. The Victorian income tax return is in a simple form, and I think could very well be adopted for the collection of Federal tax. tf the forms were simple, the taxpayers would not object to filling in two returns. The Commonwealth should be the taxcollecting authority, and not six separate States. My main objection to the measure is that it subverts the rights of the Commonwealth. The Country party have leanings in this direction, if one can judge by the following statement that was made when negotiations were taking place for the formation of the composite Ministry : -

In regard to general finance, the Country, party puts forward a rather intricate scheme for re-organizing direct taxation by the Commonwealth. Sir. Bruce stated that on this question an understanding had been arrived at, but as the co-operation of the States was involved, the scheme would require time to mature. The Country party argues that it was never intended that the Commonwealth should exercise the right of direct taxation.

That was the dictum of the then Country party, and I cannot conceive the reason for such an utterance when, under the Constitution, unlimited powers of taxation are given to the Commonwealth. No one can deny that we have not the right to enter the field of direct taxation. Some honorable members had no objection to the Commonwealth encroaching on the domain of direct taxation during war time, but now that the war is over they contend that this Government should discontinue the income tax. Although the war drum is no longer beating, and our men have returned from the battlefields, the responsibility of liquidating the debts that accumulated during the war time remains. Within the next eighteen months loans involving a very large sum of money will mature, and in those circumstances the Commonwealth cannot afford to evacuate any portion of the field of taxation. Money is as essential to the Commonwealth to-day as when we were at war ; and the Government is doing wrong in relinquishing a certain area pf direct taxation to the States and allowing them to act as collectors for the Commonwealth. Other items in the Country party's platform as published in the Melbourne Age are -

(1)   Collection by the States of direct taxation.

(2)   Direct taxation to be handed over to the States and the Commonwealth to return the whole of the Customs revenue. In return for the handing over of the land tax, income tax, probate, and amusement tax to the States, the sum of 30s. per capita to be paid to the Commonwealth by the States.

Part of that proposal is contained, in the Bill now before us.

Dr Earle Page - Those proposals must have been evolved, by the Age itself.

Mr FENTON - No, they are part of the platform of the Country party.

(3)   Full averaging system, natural increase adjustment, depreciation on farming implements. v

(4)   A single borrowing organization for Australia.

If the composite Ministry were to seek to bring about an amendment of the Constitution tol reduce the number of Governments, minimize the State Parliaments, and augment the powers and status of the National Parliament, it would be proceeding on right lines. This piecemeal legislation to meddle with the taxation scheme cannot be truly effective. In the first place it is subverting the rights of the National Parliament, and as such is a retrograde step of the worst character, which incidentally will throw a large number of men out of employment. . It would be better for the taxation arrangements to continue as at present for another twelve months, and in the meantime the Government could evolve an all-embracing scheme for which the people have long been waiting. ' So much do I object to the proposal contained in this Bill, and to the injustice that will be done to the Commonwealth and to a large number of Federal public servants, that I move as an amendment -

That all the words after the word " That " bo struck out and the following words be inserted in lieu thereof:: - "this Bill subverts the powers of the Commonwealth Government, to subsidiary authorities, works injustice to a large number of Commonwealth employees, and therefore should be referred back for further consideration."

I trust that the House will discuss the amendment as a National Parliament should, and come to a logical decision.

If it does, there will be an overwhelming majority for the amendment, the Bill will be referred back to the Government, and that will be a command to it to go ahead on broad national lines instead of proceeding on the narrow parochial lines of which this Bill gives only too much evidence. I submit the amendment with all confidence.

Dr Earle Page - The honorable member is an optimist.

Mr FENTON - To me this is a most serious matter. It is the keystone of our' national existence that the dignity and value of the Federal Parliament should be preserved at all hazards. If there are to be amendments of the Constitution, let them be such as will confer greater powers upon the National Parliament and lessen the powers of the subsidiary Parliaments. Whilst we need not copy the South African or the Canadian Constitutions to the dotting of an " i " or the crossing of a " t," we should endeavour to .evolve a Constitution that will place this Parliament upon the pedestal it should occupy, and enable it to perform those great, national duties that the founders of Federation intended it to perform. I hope the Government will accept the amendment, as expressing the feeling that should animate this National Legislature.

Suggest corrections