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Wednesday, 20 May 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- I deeply regret that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), rather than face up to the issue presented by the amendment, has sought to draw a red herring across the trail by accusing the Opposition of lack of interest in the subject-matter of this bill when it held ministerial office. From his long parliamentary experience, he must know that, in the preparation of budget legislation, points are frequently overlooked, and a later Parliament is called upon to rectify the mistakes. One of the useful functions performed by an Opposition, both in time of war and in time of peace, is to bring legislative anomalies to the notice of the Government. It is not sufficient for the Treasurer to say that the Opposition should have dealt more completely with this matter when it was in power. I have no doubt that when, with a twist of political destiny, the Treasurer again finds himself on the Opposition side, he will be able to point to many legislative measures brought down by his Government to which it will be possible for him to suggest amendments. I have in mind four bills in respect of uniform taxation and other bills providing new social services. The Opposition is quite entitled to offer suggestions for the improvement of the law. When I brought this matter before the Parliament during the last budget session in November last, I remarked -

I think it only fair to state that the relevant provision in our act was hastily drafted and introduced, and was not given the consideration by the House that its importance deserved. In moving the second reading of the bill, the then Treasurer, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) made passing reference to it, and the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) merely noted the observation that had been made. The subject was not debated.

On reference to Hansard, it will be seen that the measure was considered at a very late hour at a period when r,he Government was trying to get its budget legislation passed before the parliamentary recess. It is no answer to say that we could have done it at that time and did not. The Treasurer has giver: no definite reply to the arguments advanced in favour of the amendment. Certainly, he said that this bill was an improvement on the bill brought down during the last budget session. We agree, but we maintain that we have made out a case for still better treatment, and have justified our argument that the system which operated with justice in Great Britain during the last war, and which is still in operation there, should be adopted here also. I said before that only two possible objections to the amendment have been suggested to me. The first is that a certain amount of revenue would be lost, and the second is that the system which we propose might be difficult to administer. I think that we have successfully disposed of both arguments. Certainly the Treasurer did not refer to them in his reply. I regret that he has not recognized the justice of our case. Two other points were raised to which the Treasurer has given no reply. From the estates of deceased civilians, whose deaths are due to war causes, the Treasurer will, in effect, reap a windfall for the year in which the deaths occur. The Opposition suggests that here, again, the system in operation in Great Britain should be adopted in Australia, and that regard should be had to the expectation of life of the person killed, when working out the rate of estate duty properly applicable. I emphasize the fact that the matter of estate duties is of tremendous importance to the parties concerned. It is not just a matter of pay ing out of a large estate a lump sum which is readily available. Large estates are usually in the form, of a business in being, or of a landed property that is being worked. The payment of a large sum, running into tens of thousands of pounds in cash out of such an estate, may bankrupt it. The other point has to do with multiple deaths occurring in respect of the same estate. Where two deaths occur within a very short time of each other, a business or landed property included in the estate may be bankrupted because of the sudden heavy demands made upon it for estate duty. I ask the Treasurer to consider the adoption of the British system in which there is an abatement of duty if the second death occurs within five years of the first, ranging from 50 per cent, if the death occurs in the first year to 10 per cent, if it occurs in the fifth year.

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