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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Sir HENRY GULLETT (HENTY, VICTORIA) . - In conformity with the attitude that I have adopted on this subject on a number of occasions I propose to support the amendment. The speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) was extraordinarily close in its argument to a speech I made in this House as far back as 1933. I then took the same stand as he has taken, and ns I take now. I favour a reasonable price to the growers. I am quite prepared .to vote for a home-consumption price of 4s. Sd. a bushel, but I differ completely from the Government as to the source from which the money should be raised to enable -this price to be paid.

When I first took up this attitude five years ago I found myself practically alone in this chamber. I then said that the incidence of the flour tax operated in the wrong way. I said that it was a violation of every decent principle of taxation; that it operated against the workers and against the poor. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the poorer people are, the more bread they oat. Thus, the poorer they are the more heavily will they bc taxed, while the richer people a're the more lightly will they be taxed. The Leader of the Opposition spoke of persons with incomes up to £1,000 a year, but under this scheme a man with an income of £10,000 a year will pay less tax than one with an income of £2 oi' £3 a week. A child will pay more than a rich man in order to subsidize this great national industry. No matter how strongly honorable members may favour supporting the wheat industry - and no one could favour it more strongly than I do - they should realize that to raise the. money required in the way proposed is a violation of (.very canon of decency and .justice.

Honorable members who represent country electorates will tell me, no doubt, that the price pf flour is not a factor in the price of bread. They will say that it is possible to place this tax, calculated to return nearly £4,000,000, upon flour without necessarily increasing the price of bread to the poor. Surely that argument is not put forward seriously. They might as well say that it would not matter what the price of wheat was; that it would not affect the price of bread if the price were £1 a. bushel, or £10 ,a bushel. Why are we exempting Tasmania from the operation of this tax if it will not put up the price of bread? Why should not the millers of Tasmania pay the tax? There can be no other reason for the exemption than that the t.ix will, in fact, increase the price of bread in Tasmania. It cannot be merely because of a sentimental objection of the Tasmanians to pay the tax. Alternatively, does any one suggest seriously that the flour millers are going to pay £4,000,000 tax, or that the bakers are going to pay it? Could anything be more preposterous than thesuggestion that there is enough in the,industry to enable £4,000,000 to be taken out of it in taxation without affecting the price of the commodity, or, even if there were, that the millers would be foolish enough to pay it?

The fact is that it is impossible substantially to raise the price of wheat without bringing about a change in the price of bread, and all of us 'in our hearts know that. No one wants to tax the poor children of this country, or to tax the workers unduly. There is not a luncheon put up for a working man that is not made up in the main of bread and meat, and chiefly of bread ; yet the Government proposes to place the tax exclusively on this every-day commodity. The tax is to bo placed on the bread and jam of the children of the workers, and on their scraps of cake, in order to subsidize the wheatgrowing industry, but 1 favour subsidizing it by placing the burden equably on the taxpayers as a whole. The poor would still pay their quota, and quite a substantial one, but the wealthy would not escape, as they will almost entirely escape under the scheme as it now stands.

When I spoke on this subject five years ago in much the same terms as I .am speaking now, I had very few supporters, and when I returned to my electorate t told my constituents what had happened. I was not in any government then, and I said that I was prepared to go a certain distance to assist the industry. I should go as far. as to support a proposal for raising' portion of this money by means of a tax on the quantity of wheat consumed in Australia, but not the whole distance of supporting a bounty upon all wheat sold, including the great quantity exported, the funds for which would be raised solely by means of a flour tax on the wheat sold in Australia for human consumption. There I have stood hitherto, and there I should stand to-day if, with the House constituted as it is, I did not see some chance of doing away with the need for a bread tax. To show what an outrage is being committed on the poorer people of Australia, I have only to turn to the way in which funds to provide assistance to the wheat-growers have been raised in recent years. Go back to 1933, when there was a subsidy of £2,000,000. All of it was raised from general revenue. Then I was perfectly happy. In 1934, however, we raised £1,253,957 from flour tax and £1,791,043 from general revenue. In 1935, we raised £79S,354 from flour tax and £3,242,242 from general revenue. In 1936, the year before last, we raised £1,150,724 from flour tax and £765,102 from general revenue. In other words, in four years, of the amount of about £11,000,000 that was paid to the wheatgrowers, we raised £3,250,000 from flour tax and £7,750,000 from general revenue. I have said that I shall vote for the amendment. If we fail on that, I shall move a further amendment to provide the assistance required in a ratio of three to four, that is to say, in the ratio of three parts from a flour tax and four parts from general revenue, which would be in keeping with the practice of recent years.

I still say emphatically that a tax of this kind is so grossly wrong in principle that it falls upon the poor instead of upon the rich, as all taxation should. I should prefer that the amendment be carried, but we know that it is a particularly difficult year in which to raise money by ordinary means, and, failing the acceptance of the amendment moved by "the Leader of the Opposition, which would-take the whole of the wheat bounty from Consolidated Revenue, as an alternative to the Government's proposal to take it all from a flour tax, I shall fall back on a second amendment in an endeavour to retain the ratio between the flour tax and general revenue that we have had in recent years. I cannot understand why my proposal should not be acceptable to the whole House. The Leader of the Opposition and I make no objection to the payment of the money. We say nothing about the merits of the ease. All that we do say emphatically is that those who can afford to provide this assistance to the wheat-growers should be the ones who are called upon to provide it. .Those under this legislation, however, who are to be called upon to provide it are those who are manifestly incapable of providing it. Nothing could be more calculated to stir up a bitter class feeling between the wheat-growers and the workers of this country than this measure as it stands. Therefore, I trust that, even at this late hour, the Government, if it will not accept the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, will compromise and accept my alternative proposal.

I cannot sit down without asking: Where do the Labour parties in the States stand in this matter? What are they doing? Why the inconsistency of the attitude of Labour in the State parliaments with Labour in the Commonwealth Parliament? What is Labour outside this Parliament doing that it tolerates this tax? The Queensland Labour Government has adopted it. The Victorian Labour party, which, we all know, rides theCountry party Government in Victoria, is, apparently, behind this bread tax right up to the hilt. So, apparently, is the Labour party in Tasmania.

Mr Paterson - What about Western Australia ?

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