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Wednesday, 27 May 1942


Mr BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) . - I rise to support the Government's proposal for uniform taxation. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has regaled us with some legal technicalities, but I do not think that the House is any better informed regarding the constitutional position than it was before he began. We are considering what is best to be done in order to enable the Government to prosecute the war, and the war is not a conflict between Commonwealth rights and State rights but is against the Axis powers who, if they triumphed, would leave us with no rights at all. We have no desire to harass Victoria or South Australia or Queensland or New South Wales. In the platform of the Labour party, there is a plank providing for unification, and this proposed legislation goes some way towards it. I do not subscribe to the Labour platform, but I support this bill, because I believe it to be necessary. I hope that the bill, which provides for the imposition of uniform income taxation throughout Australia, will be passed by the Parliament. The present Opposition put forward proposals to achieve the same end, although the method was different. I supported the principle then, and I support it now. I realize that income tax in some States is not so heavy as in others. I come from one of the more heavily-taxed States, where the people will obtain some temporary relief under this measure. The citizens of States like Victoria, where taxation has been kept as low as possible, will contribute more to the country's war effort, and that is something of which they might well be proud. I believe that uniform taxation is just and logical. I have always believed in it, and while it is more necessary now than ever, it was always desirable. Honorable members have said that this proposal is unconstitutional, but we are not called upon to concern ourselves with that aspect of the matter. No doubt the Government has obtained legal advice. However, I am prepared to support any measure which the Government brings down in order to make this legislation constitutional. I do not agree that this proposal reeks of party politics. I am convinced that at a time like this party politics take a secondary place in the minds of honorable members. This is a war-time measure which provides for the amalgamation of State and Commonwealth income taxation for the period of the war, and for one year thereafter. Every effort was made by the last Government and by this one to induce the Premiers to agree to a system of uniform taxation. They would not agree to the Commonwealth's proposals, but had none of their own to put forward. I do not feel called upon to oppose this bill because it may constitute a threat to State rights. Nothing in this bill threatens State rights so seriously as our enemies are threatening both State and Commonwealth rights. They would take everything from us if they could. The only thing that matters to-day is the winning of the war. Finance plays an important part in our war effort, and this is a proposal for the scientific and equitable raising of revenue, under which the citizens of all States would contribute equally to the cost of the war. It is hoped to raise an extra £12,000,000 or £15,000,000 under this scheme, and that is a powerful argument in its favour.


Mr Holt - This scheme is not necessary in order to raise that extra revenue. Out budget provided for the raising of even more than that.

Mri BERNARD CORSER.- In our budget the same results were to be achieved by a different method, although the principle was the same. In both cases a system of uniform contribution was aimed at a reform which is desirable both in war and in peace. The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) said that the Government's proposal was unconstitutional, but unfortunately he neglected, in Eis brief and instructive address, to tell us why. The honorable member for Boothby declared that the uniform tax, imposed as a war-time measure, would never be repealed, and that the States would forever be bound by this proposal. I cannot accept that contention, because the Prime Minister has assured the House that this legislation wall remain in force for the duration of the war and twelve months thereafter. The honorable member also endeavoured to draw a red herring across the trail by reminding the House that the Commonwealth had not returned to South Australia that portion of the excess Customs revenue to. which, he said, the State was entitled. Long ago that argument was worn thread-bare in tariff debates, and will not win support at this moment. The honorable member for Boothby also considered that these measures would not ba of substantial value to the nation, but would have a most serious effect upon, the economy of South Australia. I represent a State which will derive some benefit from the proposal of the Government.


Mr Calwell - Is that why the honorable member is supporting the bill?


Mr BERNARD CORSER - No. As a counter to the speech of the honorable member for Boothby, I propose to show that taxpayers in Queensland will benefit from the introduction of a uniform income tax. Under the Commonwealth plan, income tax collected in Queensland will total £16,500,000, and of that amount the State Government will receive as compensation for abandoning the income tax field, nearly £6,000,000. Thus the Commonwealth will obtain approximately £10,500,000, or £10 6s. 8d. a head of the population.


Mr Calwell - There is some disparity between the figures mentioned by the honorable member and those given by the Premier of Queensland.


Mr BERNARD CORSER - My figures were supplied to me by the Prime Minister. The net contributions to the Commonwealth in other States will be as follows:- New South Wales, £14 7s. 3d.; Victoria, £16 5s. 3d.; Queensland, £10 6s. 8d.; South Australia, £11 6s. Id.;

Western Australia, £11 Is. id., and Tasmania £11 3s. lOd. The following table compares the taxes that are now paid on income from personal exertion by a person with a dependent wife and one child in Queensland, with the amounts that will be paid upon the adoption of the uniform tax: -

 

There will be similar reductions on all other incomes. With the introduction of the uniform income tax, Victorian taxpayers will make increased contributions to Commonwealth revenue. In the past, Victoria has been satisfied, under good government, to impose taxation most prudently in order to encourage people to invest in industry, and thereby create additional employment. In war-time, however, Victoria must expect to make a greater contribution to Commonwealth revenue, and personally, I am confident that the taxpayers will be pleased to bear their share of the burden in the knowledge that the money will be utilized in the war effort. The State Government has no good reason to complain, because Victoria has derived considerable advantage from the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth, and the enormous expansion of war industry during the last two years. Of the total expenditure upon the manufacture of munitions, the greatest proportion has been in Victoria. From the wages that have been paid to munition workers, Victoria has derived substantial benefit. The tariff protection which the Commonwealth, not the State Parliament, granted, has enabled Victoria to establish great secondary industries. Good luck to Victoria! I have consistently supported the extension of the fullest measure of protection to Australian industry in order to enable it to manufacture articles that otherwise would be imported. Having taken advantage of the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth, the people of Victoria were in a position, on the outbreak of war, to seize a big percentage of the armament and munitions work. Compared with the prosperity that war expenditure has brought to Victoria, the increased contribution that the State will make under the uniform tax proposals is a mere pittance. Victoria is not justified in contending that its present prosperity has been brought about by wise State administration. It has been created solely by the war, and the State Government has no legitimate claim to the increased revenues from that industrial expansion. The money must be diverted to Commonwealth revenues for the conduct of the war, and honorable members should disregard pettyfogging State interests that seek to obstruct this plan. In this period of unprecedented crisis, we must organize, not only our fighting forces, but also the total resources of the Commonwealth, in order to save Australia from the invader. Let us abolish the narrow idea of State boundaries, and jealousies between the States, and adopt the principle of one people, one Parliament, and one destiny. Until we do that, the hope implicit in " Advance Australia Fair " will never be realized. Personally, I admire Victoria, which, under good government, has taxed its citizens most prudently in order to encourage industry.


Mr Calwell - That is good government.


Mr BERNARD CORSER - I congratulate Victoria upon having in peacetime adopted that policy. However, in war-time, the State must be prepared to make a greater contribution to Commonwealth revenues for the purpose of meeting the mounting expenditure on the war effort. The principle of uniform taxation is to he commended. The Fadden Government endeavoured by other means to introduce it, but its proposal relating to post-war credits was rejected by a majority of honorable members of this chamber, and the Government went out of office. In my opinion, uniform taxation will enable the Commonwealth to increase its expenditure upon the production of armaments and munitions, and for that reason the proposal is a means of enabling us to resist those who desire to wrest Australia from us. I hope that in committee honorable members will endeavour, in a national spirit, to remove some of the anomalies in the bill.


Mr Archie Cameron - The Government might appoint another . committee to consider the matter.


Mr BERNARD CORSER - A committee would be of no value unless it included the honorable member for Barker, and I have not heard his name mentioned for the appointment.


Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - An honorable member representing a Queensland constituency might be appointed.


Mr BERNARD CORSER - Queensland is prepared, in a graceful spirit, to make its contribution under uniform tax proposals. Opponents of the bill must realize that in war-time people must expect to make sacrifices. If any hardships be imposed upon them by this legislation, they will not be comparable with those which are borne by members of our fighting forces. I concede to honorable members who are gibing that Queenslanders will benefit from this legislation that the position of that State will be a trifle brighter, and I only hope that the position of our lads who are fighting will be as bright. I am satisfied that before bringing down this legislation the Commonwealth Government did everything possible to secure the assistance of the States. It even sought from the States some suggestion which would lessen their opposition to the Government's plans. The Commonwealth endeavoured to coax the States to state their reasons for their opposition or to submit an alternative proposal. The only result was a statement that the Commonwealth proposal ran counter to State rights. State rights ! We are fighting now to preserve national rights and the rights of the British Empire and all members of the Allied cause, not such trifles as State rights. Honorable members might as well make speeches in defence of the rights of hospital boards or school committees. The sooner that members of this Parliament and the people realize that the Commonwealth alone is entrusted with the defence of the country the better will be our effort in this war. The fighting of the war has to be financed. On it £515,000,000 has already been expended and the programme for this year involves the expenditure of a further £360,000,000. Next year the need will be greater still, and by means of this legislation the Commonwealth will be able, if necessary, to increase it on a basis of uniform taxation with one taxing authority in place of seven. Whatever one's earnings may be, the tax imposed, thereon will be the same whether one lives at Cape York or Melbourne or elsewhere. The Government has generously offered to return to the State governments the amounts of money which they would have collected had the right to impose income tax not been stripped from them - stripped because of the national emergency and the advance of the enemy! The danger is here to-day and we must deal with it.







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