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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Victoria are to be frozen as the result of the bill, that State will have just cause for grievance. The wages of public servants in the employ of the Government of Victoria are not determined by arbitration tribunals, but are fixed at the discretion of the Parliament of that State. If the Government of Victoria suddenly found itself short of revenue, as might well happen under this scheme, the Victorian public servants would be among the first to suffer. I suggest that it might be desirable to widen the scope of the Arbitration 'Court to cover those employees.

Whilst this measure would discriminate between the States, it would also operate unfairly as between individuals. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has spoken of raising an additional £15,000,000, without imposing further burdens on the people. That is to be brought about by a uniform plan that would apply only to taxpayers who are now subject to federal income tax. The present immunities from that tax will remain, and the tax now being gathered by the States in respect of the lower incomes will be lost in future under this proposal. A person with an income of £3 a week makes no contribution at all by way of Commonwealth income tax, and on incomes up to £8 a week, only light levies are imposed, but under the State laws, persons in receipt of the lower incomes are taxed. In Western Australia for instance, a person without dependants and in receipt of £150 a year, pays tax to the amount of £7 10s. a year, and similar taxes are levied on the lower incomes in South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. Under the present proposal, however, persons in receipt of such incomes will be exempt from taxation. What is required at present is not that we should exempt persons with incomes from taxation but that we should increase these taxes. That is bound to come sooner or later. This measure merely proposes a new system of taxation, and the rates of tax will be proposed in another bill to be presented later. Whenever it is brought forward, it is clear that the persons with incomes which are now free from federal tax will benefit to a greater degree than they should. Generally speaking, the situation throughout the Stares, and particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, and to a certain degree in South Australia, is that persons in the lower salary ranges have vastly increased incomes, which are therefore available for taxation at a period when extra revenue is required to carry on the war effort. When speaking recently on the Widows' Pensions Bill, I referred to the fact that many persons under the age of twenty years, and receiving from £3 to £5 a week in wages, have no family responsibilities, and often live at the homes of their parents. They spend money lavishly on many things which are not necessary to life. Those in this class should definitely be taxed under the bill.

Some honorable members are in favour of the measure and some are against it; but it is interesting to notice that honorable members from New South Wales are, as a whole, in favour of the bill. I have asked myself the reason for that. I have a high regard for the patriotism and intelligence of honorable members from New South Wales, irrespective of the side of the House on which they sit, but I do not admit that either their patriotism or their intelligence is higher than that of honorable members from other States. Honorable members from Queensland hold at least mixed views regarding the bill. Why do honorable members from New South Wales consider this bill to he a desirable one? I think that there are two possible reasons for that outlook. The first is that under this bill a step is taken on the long road towards unification, and for some reason or other honorable members from that State seem to prefer unification to the present system of government in operation in the Commonwealth. On paper, the State with most to gain under the measure is New South Wales, and, irrespective of the desire of its representatives to be impartial, the thought must be at the back of their mind that they should support a proposal that, would bring more grist to the people in the State from which they come. I have tried to approach this matter with an unbiased mind, and I consider that from the point of view of Victoria, and some of the other States, the bill will operate un- fairly. Every thoughtful member of this community must look forward tn the consummation of a unified form of government. I hold very strong views upon the matter. My principal objection to the bill is that, either deliberately or otherwise, it sets out to achieve, by a back-door method, some measure of unification, and I for one shall not tolerate it. If unification be desirable, it should be accomplished by proper constitutional methods. I hope that unification will be effected after the war, but the present is not an appropriate time for us to make such a great constitutional change. In my opinion, the Commonwealth Constitution, which was framed 42 years ago, is now outmoded. Events move quickly, opinions change, and the whole organization of government becomes more complicated. Some system should be evolved whereby a highly centralized government will legislate for the whole continent, and State or, if necessary, provincial governments will deal with purely local matters. Unfortunately, the trend of democracy has been to concentrate power at the centre, and to form bureaucracies, which are extremely subversive of good government. I advocate a large measure of decentralization under which the central government will vest autonomous powers in provincial governments. But all the main services, including taxation, must remain a function of the central government. I look forward to the day when those constitutional changes will be effected.

Whilst I appreciate the reasons which have prompted the Government to introduce this legislation, I cannot support the bill, because, in my opinion, it is unconstitutional, discriminates .between the States, and acts unfairly on the individual. Consequently. I shall vote against it.

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