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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES (Wakefield) . - I should like to have more than the mere undertaking from the Treasurer that that the matter will he examined. It is of first-class importance. Immediately the estate duty was introduced, I began to wonder what would be the position in relation to the estates of men serving in the war who lost their lives as the result through injury or disease. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has excellently stated the position, and his remarks ought to be carefuly studied. During the last war, the estate of any man who lost his life as the result of the war was not subject to any assessment. That provision continued until last year, when, another war having started, it was altered to the effect that estates under £5,000 should not be subject to duty'; but nothing was said in regard to estates above £5,000, with the result that an estate valued at £5,500 immediately became assessable for the full amount of duty, and thus was in exactly the same position as the estate of any other member of the community who had not gone to the war. I regard that, as extremely hard, and doubt very much whether the Parliament so intended. As the matter has now been raised, it ought to be considered by the House, in order that it might decide whether the estates of deceased soldiers, sailors and airmen should be completely free of duty, whether some compromise should be effected, or whether the duty should be the same as that, chargeable against the estates of other persons. The British rule at present is practically identical with that which operated there during the last war. It is not so liberal as was ours at that time, but. it is very much more generous than the provision we are now considering.

Mr Lazzarini - This does not alter it.

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - It does, because the rates rise to a very high figure.. The honorable member for

Fawkner has quite properly pointed out that the rapid rise of rates has made .th

Sir Frederick Stewart - Is the first £5,000 continuously exempt?

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - There is a straight-out exemption of £5,000 to begin with, after which there is a further exemption which, on figures the honorable member for Fawkner has; results in the amount being six or eight times as much as in Australia. A third provision enables the more liberal of two different, acts to be applied in England in order that the calculation of the duty on an estate may operate to the advantage of the estate of a deceased soldier, sailor, or airman. There is a fourth provision, that if more than one member of a family is killed, and the same property passes, it is assessable only on the first occasion. There is a. most elaborate and thorough method of calculating the succession duty to be paid. What does the House think would be proper in regard to men who have volunteered for active service abroad? Does it think that, in addition to losing their lives, their estates ought to bc assessed at the same rate as the estates of other members of the community; or should not have to pay any duty; or should there be a compromise between complete exemption and full payment? I feel perfectly sure that neither side of the House would say that the estates of soldiers, sailors, or airmen who lose their lives overseas, should be severely raxed. This is a severe tax. It may be said that it will apply only to big estates, which can quite well afford to pay it. According to the figures that we have, an estate of £120,000 would pay something like £40,000 in estate duty to Federal and State authorities.

Mr Riordan - It should do so.

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - Does the honorable member say that the estate' of a man who gives his life for his country should have to pay one-third of its value?

Mr Riordan - I arn concerned about the amount at which the estate is valued. Such an estate should make a fair and equitable contribution.

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - That appears to suggest that no distinction should be drawn between the man who dies on active service and the man who does not. I dissociate myself entirely from that view. We are carrying on, mistakenly I think, under the voluntary system. Some of those who go to the other side of the world are either killed outright or eventually die of wounds or illness. Should that occur, their estates should either be exempt from duty - that would not be too much - or be given concessional treatment, for the benefit of those left behind. I do not think that the view expressed by the honorable member is held by many persons. It might be better if this matter were reconsidered, and the Government were to introduce an amending bill. We have not before us the Estate Duty Assessment Act, section 9 of which deals with the matter, but only a bill to amend the Estate Duty Act. I would cheerfully vote for the exemption from duty of the estates of deceased members of the fighting services, of whatever size they might be; but the Government may not bo prepared to go to that length. It is not for rae to dictate what a Labour government should do; but I have thought the matter out, and discussed it with others, in an attempt to work out what would be equitable, and the general opinion seems to be that all estates should have an exemption of £5,000, and that only half the rates specified in respect of estates above that figure should be applicable to the estates of soldiers, sailors or airmen who lose their lives as the result of active service in the field or disease contracted while on service. I should like to hear what other honorable members think of this. I have prepared an amendment which I am inclined to move in committee in order to test the feeling of honorable members so that there shall be no question of leaving the question to the discretion of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley). Parliament should settle the question, the more so because, when it was before Parliament last year, it was apparently not under stood fully, and the measure went through both Houses with practically no debate.

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