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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I do not wish to give a silent vote on this bill, nor do I wish to speak at length on it. There is no need for me to reiterate the statement that honorable members on this side of the chamber have always voted in favour of reasonable proposals to assist the wheat-growing industry. An examination of the division lists of the last six years will prove the truth of that declaration. We have always been anxious to help the farmers, and the various schemes, that have been submitted to honorable members with that object have usually been carried by an almost unanimous vote. I wish that we -could vote separately on the different subjects involved in this bill. I believe that every honorable member would agree to the immediate allocation of £500,000 for the relief of farmers in drought-stricken areas. They would also favour the repatriation of farmers now living on areas unsuitable for wheat production, or too small to make profitable operations practicable. However, I cannot close my eyes to the fact that the fundamental principle of this bill is the imposition of a sales tax on flour. In other words, we are asked to favour the principle of a bread tax. When the first sales proposals were submitted to this Parliament some years ago, they were given such a hostile reception that I thought that no government would re-introduce them. In the opinion of many honorable members' the sales tax is not only a class tax, but is also inhumane in its incidence, in that it places an intolerable burden on the poorest class of our people. Since that time, however, this Government has consistently followed the course of remitting taxes on the wealthier classes of the community, and placing heavier imposts on the working people. That attitude deserves the severest condemnation. Under the provisions of this bill, it is proposed to extract payments amounting to millions of pounds from people whose purchasing power is already extremely limited. This is iniquitous in the .highest degree.

I cannot understand the attitude of the Country party towards this bill. We have had frequent statements in this House by Country party members concerning what they describe a3 the enormous profits of various Australian manufacturing industries, and it has been asserted that profits have continuously increased since the country began to emerge from the last depression. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) has made some remarkable investigations into the operations of certain big companies, and has astounded us by his statements concerning the dividends paid by companies interested in the motor car industry, and in other big enterprises. He has told us that dividends up to 80 per cent, per annum have been paid on the capital actually invested in some of these companies. Particular reference has been made to the circumstances of a group of 80 companies which have made extraordinary progress since this Government has been in office. Seeing that the Country party has criticized, in such a damaging way, the profit-making proclivities of these companies, it seems extraordinary that it should now fail to request that the companies concerned shall be taxed to provide the money needed to assist the wheat-growers' As a matter of actual fact, the burden of this tax will fall almost wholly upon the widows and orphans, the pensioners and casual workers, and the unemployed people of this country, who are our chief bread-eaters.

Every political party represented in this Parliament has declared itself te be in favour of a home-consumption price for wheat, but the Labour party protests bitterly against the method by which the Government is proposing to make this possible. Thu is the old sales tax baby, nicely dressed and wearing a new bonnet designed by the honorable member for Riverina.

Mr Prowse - Honorable members opposite frequently dress up tariff propositions in an attractive garb.

Mr HOLLOWAY - That may be so; but it cannot be denied that the bread tax will fall most heavily upon our wageearners. Thi3 was shown by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who cited certain authoritative opinions expressed on the subject by Professor Giblin. It has been stated at some conferences which have considered the circumstances of the wheat-growing industry, that not less than ls. a bushel of the money received by the wheatgrowers for the wheat they sell is paid in interest to money-lenders; yet the Country party does not seem to be at all interested in devising ways and means te require these interests to contribute towards the fund for the assistance of the wheat-growers. Not only are the money-lenders excluded from the duty to contribute to this tax, but so also are many of the wealthiest companies of Australia. The. Labour party contends that the money needed to implement thi.' scheme should be provided by direct taxation. We are all well aware that, since the country began to emerge from the last depression, this Government ha3 remitted taxes amounting to £5,250,000 to its wealthy supporters.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Perhaps I may be allowed to say that in 1933-34 certain taxes were remitted so hurriedly that the Government found itself without the necessary funds to provide £2,000,000 which was found necessary, at that time, to assist the wheat-growing industry, and so it had to impose the flour tax to provide the money. Surely it could have adopted some other method on this occasion, seeing that it had already remitted land taxes to an amount of £2,500,000, and property tax to an amount of more than £1,800,000, to the wealthy landowners who support it.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The first sales tax on flour was imposed to provide £2,000,000 to assist the wheat-growers; but that was regarded as an emergency measure. It now seems that the Government is looking to regular revenue from this source to assist the wheatgrowing industry. Every penny taken from the lower-paid workers of this country reduces the spending power of the whole community, and I protest in the strongest possible way to the proposal to further embarrass these unfortunate citizens. I cannot imagine how the Government can expect to secure recruits from the working class when it introduces proposals of this description.

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