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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The war has brought within the purview of the national Parliament matters affecting the lives of the people which normally do not come within the scope of our consideration. It is one of the weaknesses of the federal system of government, in which there is a division of powers, that many matters, such as health, education, and public recreation, rarely come before this Parliament. I propose, therefore, to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by this measure for the taxing of entertainments to make a few general comments. The needs of the war necessitate a direct contribution from the entertainments industry, and this bill provides for a steep increase of the rates of tax which were previously operating in most of the States. The increased tax has been accepted by the industry, as it will be accepted by the public, as a necessary part of our war finance. It will help, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) has pointed out, to bridge the enormous gap between the anticipated revenue and the anticipated expenditure. I.u contrast to Australia, public entertainment and recreation are regarded by national legislatures in other countries as being of real importance. Since the last war, governments in Europe, Great Britain and the United States of America not only have taken an interest in public recreation and entertainment but also have provided amenities for the people and, in some instances, subsidized activities which were valuable in the community life, but would be difficult to continue under normal commercial conditions. Russia, whether under the Czarist regime or the Communist regime, has maintained the justly famed Russian ballet. France and Germany and Italy have spent vast sums on organizing the entertainment of their subjects. Italy has a state-subsidized opera company. Those countries have recognized that live artist shows provide a colour, variety and vitality in community life which lift it above the drabness that everyday working conditions create, and so they have sought to encourage such entertainment. Younger countries are perhaps concerned more with problems of industrial development and primary production than with the provision of recreation facilities, and usually a young country does not feel that it needs or has the time to encourage these forms of entertainment. However, with the increase of prosperity and leisure the State turns its attention to the support and development of the arts. If we needed any evidence of the necessity for State interest in such matters we may find it in the change which has taken place in our way of life in recent decades. To-day, most of our people live in the cities. Many of them work in offices or at repetitive factory tasks, and therefore they have a real need for regular breaks from the tedium of work, however much they may enjoy it in a general sense. "We see further evidence of this in the hordes of people who throng places of public entertainment and in the thousands who obtain regular entertainment from radio programmes. I am not in possession of figures for the whole of Australia, but I know that in Victoria alone last year there were about 37,000,000 paid admissions to picture theatres. That indicates the popularity of one of our chief forms of entertainment. These facts should be of interest to the National Parliament, because, when financial measures which may cause a restriction of public entertainment are brought forward, we must approach them with particular care, recognizing, of course, the imperative need to finance our war effort. "We recognize this need, but we must examine this heavy impost - and by any standard it will bp a heavy impost on the family man with a low income - with particular care in order to ensure that we do not create another form" of indirect tax which will bear harshly and unfairly on large sections of the community. One of the industries which will be directly affected has accepted the proposed budden as a part of its obligation to the nation's war effort, and the community as a whole will accept it in the same spirit. I know that the Government does not intend to use this measure as u means of restricting public entertainment. Although it may be a matter of Government policy to impose certain restrictions in other directions, this is purely a revenue-raising measure. However, this discussion does provide an opportunity to refer to the fact that the Government has under consideration a plan to restrict one or more forms of public recreation. Only to-day the Prime Minister spoke of the need to impose some restriction on horse racing, and he indicated that the Government would promulgate regulations to give effect to its policy in this regard. No honora'ble member will deny that there should bo some restriction of racing in war-time. In fact, we all know that there has been a substantial reduction of horse-racing in Australia since the outbreak of war, just as there has been in Great Britain. This restriction has not completely deprived the people of opportunities to attend race meetings as a part of their weekly recreation. I now express the hope, in anticipation of future action, that the Government will not seek to deprive the public of one of the most popular forms of entertainment. In peace-time we were not ashamed of the fact that we were a race-loving community. "We Australians have been rather proud of the fact that we stage one of the most widelyknown racing fixtures - certainly the largest conducted in the southern hemisphere - the Melbourne Cup. Many responsible and reputable citizens have eagerly sought election to the committees of our leading race clubs. This popular form of entertainment was catered for extensively in peace-time, but now we do not quarrel with the necessity for some restriction. However, I ask the Government to beware that in this matter, as in some other matters which must come before it, it be not led astray by the strident minority which is ever in our midst and whose sole objective apparently is to deprive other people of forms of entertainment which members of that minority do not themselves enjoy. "War is a great creator of extremes. It may tend to encourage intemperance, particularly in the consumption of liquor, a problem of which we have heard a great deal recently, but it also tends to increase intolerance of the rights, privileges and pleasures of other people. This tendency has been apparent in recent months, and it has shown a dangerous facility for growth against which this National Parliament should guard. One man's meat may be another man's poison, but, while it is one man's meat, he should be allowed to enjoy it. The fact that it is another man's poison concerns that man only, and he should not endeavour to impose his own distastes on his neighbour. I hope that, in this and other matters which affect the rights of the individual, the Government will not be misled by these people whose voices were drowned in happier times, but who to-day find opportunities to express views which most Australians would normally regard as intolerable. The fact that some form of regular entertainment is necessary to the people is recognized by the Commonwealth Government and the State governments in various ways. The State governments consistently provide in the schools organized recreation for the growing youth of the community and one of the most important features of life in the fighting services is the organized recreation provided for the troops. Just as schoolboys and members of the fighting services require a judicious means of recreation and entertainment, so likewise do civilians, whose lives are perhaps more drab and considerably less colourful than those of either schoolboys or fighting men. There is a danger that when a community is called upon to accept a policy advanced ostensibly with the object of promoting the war effort, it will do so without analytically examining it. The acceptance of such policies at the value given to them by their advocates has in it a measure of real risk. "Whilst policies which oan be proved to be in the best interests of the war effort will undoubtedly receive the whole-hearted support of the general community, there is a need for a vigilant examination of restrictive measures which invade individual rights and intrude on personal privileges without making any commensurate contribution to the war effort.

I welcome the Government's concession of a reduction of 25 per cent, of the tax in respect of stage performances by fleshandblood artists. All who have had any familiarity with the stage in Australia in the last ten or fifteen years will know that it has been most difficult to maintain performances in which artists appear in person. This' section of the industry was given exemption from the 1937 prosperity loading granted by the Arbitration Court to other industries. The exemption was a recognition of the perilous financial condition of the stage at that time. Unquestionably, because of the heavier expenses incurred when fleshandblood performers appear, a tax in the same ratio on such performances as that applicable to picture shows and the like would place an extremely heavy burden on entrepreneurs whose interests are in what we know as the legitimate stage. The 25 per cent. concession granted by the Government, in respect of such performances will therefore tend to soften what would otherwise be an extremely heavy burden. ltis unfortunate that administrative difficulties probably prevent the Government from making a similar concession in respect of performances provided by showmen in country areas.Whilst it may appear to some honorable members that the entertainments industries are passing through a boom period at the moment, the fact is that country showmen are experiencing a very lean time owing to the heavy drain on man-power from the country to the city.

Mr Calwell - The honorable gentleman's observation is capable of misunderstanding. He has observed that there has been a drain of man-power from the country districts, and that therefore city entertainments are flourishing. It is a fact, however, that there has also been a heavy drain on man-power in city areas.

Mr HOLT - That may be so, but the movement is invariably unfavorable to country districts. Although many men in city areas have joined the fighting services, there has been an influx of population from country districts of both men and women who have taken up munitions work and other necessary wartime activities.

I suggest to the Government that it, should not lose sight of the desirability of following the example of Great Britain in respect of the subsidizing of certain forms of entertainments in country districts which otherwise could not be made available to people in rural areas. The time may not be opportune at the moment for the application of such a policy, hut the wisdom of it should not be overlooked. I point out that, notwithstanding the war, the Government of Great Britain has provided £100,000 this year for subsidies in respect of the presentation of dramatic and concert performances and the display of works of art in isolated districts. Because of this provision travelling theatre and concert parties in Great Britain are now able to visit more or less remote areas and provide a form of entertainment for the local residents which otherwise would not be practicable.

Mr Hughes - It may be that the Minister at the table (Mr. George Lawson) and I could go on tour.

Mr HOLT - Perhaps the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has seen the cartoon of himself in this week's Bulletin. It shows him as a ballet dancer and reveals parts of his anatomy which, normally, are not visible to the public eye. He has provided much entertainment in this House for us in recent years, and we should be loath to allow him to withdraw ; but he may think that to do so, temporarily, is part of his public duty.

The policy applied in Great Britain in respect of travelling theatre concert parties has also been applied in certain European countries. Honorable members will be aware, too, that one of the more attractive features of the New Deal programme of President Roosevelt is the encouragement of art and of dramatic and concert performances on the legitimate stage. This is a recognition of the fact that definite advantages flow to a community from theatrical performances of that nature. I hope that although we must naturally continue to be obsessed by the immediate and pressing problems of the war, we shall not lose sight of the need of our community for amenities of the nature to which I have referred, and which are still being provided in other parts of the world, for they would undoubtedly add to the vitality of our community life.

Subject to these remarks I commend the bill, and generally support the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden).

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