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Friday, 21 June 1946

Dame ENID LYONS (Darwin) . - So far as I have been able to hear during the course of this debate - unfortunately I have been absent for a considerable portion of it - the chief complaint that has been raised by honorable members opposite against speeches by honorable members on this side of the chamber is that they constitute continual criticism of the worker. Nothing could be further from the truth. We criticize, in season and out of season, not the worker, but the non-worker of whom there is a growing army, not confined to any one section of the community. There appears to have spread over the whole face of the Commonwealth, and possibly over the whole face of the world, a feeling that work in itself is inimical-, that work is the one thing to be avoided if every one would lead a happy life. As a matter of fact, most of us know that work is life, and the sooner we return to a sound basis of talk about the whole subject of work, the better it will be for us all. On Victory Day, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) spoke about the future. He said that sacrifices would still be demanded of all of us; that victory did not in any way solve the problems of the future. With that view, I cordially agree; but I suggest to the right honorable gentleman that it is not enough merely to talk of sacrifices to be made. He must enumerate the kind of sacrifices which are expected from us. He should tell the people that hard work is required of every section, of the community. When we all realize that, we shall come to the point where we can hope to bridge the gap between our spending power and the goods upon which the money Gan be spent. It is futile to talk vaguely to people about inflation. They do not think in terms of economics, and have difficulty in detecting any danger in the present situation. We must explain it to them in practical terms, and show them what is necessary to bridge the gap. AH appeals will be entirely useless unless we support them with action.

This morning, the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) made a vigorous defence of the Government. I was really delighted to hear him inject so much enthusiasm into his speech, because speakers become a little tired at this stage of a debate. The honorable member declared that the' employment of exservicemen was being " pushed ahead " at a great rate, ,and that everywhere ex-servicemen were being employed. According to the honorable member, only one ex-serviceman in every 100 was not placed in employment. From my personal experience, those figures seem to' me to be very highly coloured. The number of ex-servicemen who, I know, have not obtained work to date, is much larger than I would have imagined. I shall tell the House one thing. There is work assured for every ex-serviceman who cares to call at an employment bureau. Indeed, he may even devote the first 40-hour week, once it is established, to filling in the form that is presented to him. The process starts with the card which must be filled in when the exserviceman applies for employment. It is a large square of cardboard, with spaces thereon for the applicant to supply the following particulars : -

Christian name, surname, address, employment Bought, remuneration sought, educational qualifications (refer to availability of school leavers' card, school certificates, trades certificates, diplomas and degrees) ; means of contact, occupationally registered as; code number, employed, unemployed will be employed on ; ex-service de tails; demobilization details; v.g. report, previous employment history (including, if relevant, while in the services), with occupation, previous employer, industry, period, during what years, and reason for termination; reference to apprenticeship, details of trade training, and any special experience bearing on occupational potential; personal details, including date of birth, conjugal state, dependants, nationality, height, weight, health, physical capacity, personal type, occupation suitable, with reference to any handicaps occupationally .restrictive or to any other matters requiring special comment - e.g., relating to ability or inability to liv

The card does not require the information whether the applicant is still in possession of his appendix.

Mr Conelan - Why does the honorable member object to the card ?

Dame ENID LYONS - If the applicant went to a private employment agency, his interview would last no longer than five minutes. The private employment agency would not require to know how much he weighed, his height, what he ate, and details about his appearance. The procedure adopted by the Commonwealth Employment Service, about which I complain, consumes time and man-power, and, in total, entails enormous waste. We must abolish waste of all kinds. Waste is being experienced everywhere and wemust avoid it if we are to attain an economically sound basis. Every one is well aware of the growing demand for a reduction of taxes. That, I think, is equally well known to honorable members on this side of the chamber as it is to honorable members opposite, but I doubt whether the reasons for it are as fully and carefully considered by them as they are by us. I desire to speak, however, not so much upon a general reduction of taxes as upon certain features of taxation which require overhaul and which will not involve the Treasury in any serious loss of revenue. I refer particularly to sales tax. From the day that sales tax was introduced, it has been the target for a great deal of criticism, and, strangely enough, the incidence of this tax always hits the small business man more severely than the large. I cite particularly the case of a retail trader who is registered also for wholesale trade, but whose wholesale business is less than 50 per cent, of the whole. When this tax was first introduced, this trader was assessed on the stock he held, which was likely to be sold wholesale, and was charged sales tax upon it. A regular wholesale trader paid sales tax only as his business was done. As sales tax1 was increased, the same principle applied, but when reductions were made and exemptions were granted, no redress was given to the retailer. Some time ago, when it became evident that housing costs were atrociously high, the Government very wisely decided to exempt certain building materials from sales tax.

Mr Conelan - It has not reduced the cost of erecting homes.

Dame ENID LYONS - Exactly. Before the exemptions were granted, sales tax payable on a house-costing £1,200 was £75. To encourage home-builders, such items as galvanized iron, spouting, piping, reinforcing cement, sand, bricks, wood fuel stove's, doors, glass, timber and a few other items were exempted from sale.? tax, but all those traders who had already paid sales tax on such stocks as they held for wholesale_ distribution later received no redress. They were told that there was no provision in the act to enable them to secure a refund. Regular wholesale dealers operating in a large way do 'not pay the tax until they sell their goods, and therefore they were able to take full advantage of the exemption. -I ask the Government to investigate this anomaly, which is a distinct injustice to small traders. I am sure that the Government will be anxious to correct the position. The same thing occurs when goods are transferred from the luxury class to another class, thus effecting a reduction of the sales tax rate. Many items have been reduced from the 25 per cent, class to the 12-J per cent, class. In such cases, small traders once again have no redress. and, having paid tax in advance, are unable to secure refunds. There are many other things in connexion with sales taxation to which attention should be drawn. They areusually referred to as anomalies ; they would be much more wisely termed absurdities. For instance, doors are exempt from sales tax, but locks and hinges are not. Weatherboards are exempt, but the paint necessary to preserve and protect them is not. Axes are exempt, but saws are not. Having lived in a timber district for most of my life, I cannot understand why a man who uses a crosscut saw should be compelled to pay sales tax for his tools, whilst a man who does his work with an axe should be free. Roofing also is exempt from sales tax, but the fixings for it are not. Personal brushware, which means hair brushes, tooth brushes, nail brushes and so forth, is taxed as a luxury at 25 per cent., whereas scrubbing brushes, dog brushes and horse brushes are treated as necessities and taxed at the rate of 12i per cent. Toilet soap is classed as a luxury and taxed at the higher rate, but dog soap is treated as a necessity and taxed at the lower rate. As somebody has said, the Government apparently considers that it should be cheaper to wash a dog than to wash a baby. These anomalies should be reviewed, because they are causing a groat deal of inconvenience and complaint. I ask the Treasurer to give earnest consideration to my suggestions.

Some time ago in this House I referred to the Gift Duty Act, and to-day I return to the attack because I consider that the act should be revised from the beginning to the end. In fact, if I had my way, I would abolish it. With the exception of New Zealand, Australia is the only country that has such legislation. I communicated with the Treasurer on another taxation matter some time ago, and, in the course of a letter to me, the right honorable gentleman stated -

A very grave responsibility rests upon the Commissioner to interpret the act as it stands.

I agree completely with that statement. However, on another occasion, when writing to one of my constituents, the right honorable gentleman stated -

The admitted severity ofthis taxation will be mitigated by sympathetic administration.

Obviously, if the Commissioner is required to carry out the grave responsibility of administering the. act in detail, he has little opportunity to exercise his discretion. The responsibility should rest upon this Parliament to put the act in order, and prevent occurrences that are constantly causing a great deal of trouble within families. The family is the very basis of community life, and we ought to attempt to build it up in every way and refrain from doing anything that would tend to disrupt it.. I have before me details of a number of cases illustrating the effect of the act. A farmer had an agreement with his two sons to work on his farm. The sons drew onlysufficient money to cover their immediate requirements. The remainder of their wages accumulated and was held by the farmer in his banking account on their behalf. With this accumulated money, a farm was purchased for the sons at a cost of £550, plus improvements costing £350. On this amount, the farmer paid £27 as gift duty. There was a mortgage on the homestead of £1,200 at4½ per cent. While serving with the armed forces, the sons accumulated more money and decided to lift the mortgage, the father agreeing to pay 4 per cent. An amount of £600 was withdrawn by the father from the Commonwealth Bank and paid directly to the Agricultural Bank without going through any otherbanking account. The father has now been advised that the sons are responsible for £36 gift duty, which will bc refunded to them if the loan is repaid in full within five years. As a representative of women, I am particularly interested in another case. A married woman had saved £700 out of her housekeeping allowance from her husband over a period of twenty years, and recently bought a property for- £1,000. Her husband made her a gift of £300 to complete the purchase and, in accordance with the Gift Duty Act, a return was lodged disclosing this gift. The Commissioner of Taxation inquired as to the source of the £700, and, on being informed of the facts, stated that the money saved by the woman did not. belong to her, but must be treated as a gift from her husband. The result was the. issue of an assessment for £30 duty, plus a penalty of £30 for lodging an incorrect return in the first place.

The comment made to me by a legal man who brought the case to my notice was this -

This docs not appear a fair assessment to us, as according to the Gift Duty Act, the gift must have been made within a statutory period of three years, and we understand in this case the matter extends over about twenty years.

I point out that if any married person applies for an old-age pension, the joint incomes of husband and wife are treated as being equally divisible between them. In other words, it is recognized that the wife has a right to half of the family income. If that is so in the administration of one act, surely it should be. so in the administration of another. The Gift Duty Act is, in essence, an agent to drive a wedge between husband and wife in their financial relations, which is an utter disgrace.

Mr Conelan - Was the case cited by the honorable member brought to the notice of the taxation officials?

Dame ENID LYONS - Yes.

Mr Conelan - What was their answer?

Dame ENID LYONS - I believe the matter is still in the air, but the point is that such a position should not be possible. I want anomalies such as this to be fully' understood by honorable members so that they may be cleared up. Under the Gift Duty Act, miscarriages of justice are not uncommon. I have details of at least a dozen different cases. I believe that these injustices were not intended by the Government which framed the legislation or by the Parliament which passed it, and fie sooner the faults are removed the better it will be for all concerned.

Mr Dedman - The act was introduced to prevent tax evasion.

Dame ENID LYONS - Yes, but it was intended to prevent evasion of a tax of which I do not approve at all, namely the death duty. Probably my opposition to the death duty puts me beyond the pale in the eyes of some honorable members, but I am not dealing with that point to-day. The point is that not only is the prevention of evasion of tax under the act accomplished, but a thousand other things have come into being which have imposed a most grievous injustice, and the amount involved, as money goes to-day, is to the Treasury a mere bagatelle.

There is only one other matter- on which I wish to speak. I am glad that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) is in the House. Recently, I asked a question concerning the possibility of making available motor vehicles and spare parts directly through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission to traders who are willing to make deliveries to householders. I make it a point on almost every occasion when asking a question so to phrase it as either to gain immediate information or to make a suggestion to the Government which I think is a good one, and I am surprised when any such suggestion is treated with a degree of hostility. On the occasion to which I have referred, the Minister immediately made the remark that to do what I had suggested would be to do something against, which all honorable .members on this side of the House are continually fighting. He said that it' would mean an extension of controls. I failed to follow his argument, and asked a second question so as to try to get hin to elucidate it a little. What new control would be necessary ? We have a certain number of things on our hands; they are our property - used cars and the like - which are no longer necessary for the carrying on of a war. Merely to change the basis on which such things are disposed of does not seem to me to involve any great extension of control, and certainly nothing that would be irksome to the general public. I am making an appeal on behalf of people for whom little is ever done - housewives. I said quite recently that they had carried the greatest burden of civilian sacrifices in Australia during the war. What have any honorable gentlemen in this House done? They have gone without a few pounds of butter, and have eaten a little less meat. How many of them have stood for hours and hours in a queue? How many of them have racked their brains trying to prepare meals that will suit the palates of others? I have never raised what might be called the " feminist banner " in this House; nevertheless., it remains true that women, and their rights and interests, are frequently overlooked. The matter of the delivery of supplies to householders is a serious one at the present time. Ask any doctor, particularly in any city, where the burden falls most heavily, and what at present is the cause of the greatest attention he pays to women, and he will say that it is disability as the result of women, not physically capable of doing so, carrying burdens and standing in queues for hours on end. This is a matter to which some attention must be paid. I admit that it is very difficult to deal with. I have cast about in my mind for various ways of encouraging people to make deliveries, and realize how difficult is the problem. Many retailers have told me that they would make deliveries if they could get vehicles. In my district at the present time there is a baker who, during the whole of the war, delivered bread to my house, because I happened to be sufficiently far outside the town to be in the zone in which deliveries were permitted. At the present time, that man sometimes comes to my house at 10 o'clock at night; and he is up at 5 o'clock the next morning to assist in the bakery. The reason for his late arrival at my place is that his motor vehicle is worn Out, and because of the lack of certain parts he is held up all along the road. Through local dealers he has made numerous requests for the necessary parts, but has not had any success. I got in touch with the Transport Commissioner, although I knew that he had no authority to do anything, seeking his advice and help in the matter. His reply was, " The only thing I can tell you is to go Commission deals through him ". The to the local dealer, because the Disposals Government has a large quantity of stuff on hand. If the dealers are not releasing it in such a way as to promote the interests of the housewives of this country, the Government should ' step in on behalf of those people, who are uncomplainingly carrying the greatest part of the hurden, and deserve at least that much to help them. I believe that that would really be of some assistance to housewives at the present time. The whole matter of disposals, it would seem, is being bungled very badly indeed at the moment. To destroy by fire or other means implements and equipment of any kind which could be used by any citizen of this country is a crime against God and man. The Royal Australian Air Force is being rapidly dispersed. Wherever there were large air force establishments, there are masses of equipment. Much of this is being destroyed, and, I suggest, by the most wasteful method, because it is all transported to and gathered together at one spot for destruction. Could anything more ridiculous be imagined? Wherever these establishments are, there is certain equipment which would be of great advantage to householders. There are, for instance, huts which could be sold to local business people, or to persons who want a garage, for £10 or £15 each. Yet that kind of thing is not done. The point is, that these things have to be transported 500, 600,. 700 or 1,000 miles to the locality in which they are to be disposed of." Some of the people in the locality could use much of what is being burnt.

Mr Conelan - Where is it?

Dame ENID LYONS - In many places throughout Australia, including Queensland. The name of one place that I had in mind has escaped me for the moment. T do not speak at random. Ask any Minister whether or not equipment is being destroyed to-day; for example, certain cooking equipment. I realize that it would be impossible to bring a small quantity of equipment from Bourke to, say, Melbourne, for distribution. But I do consider that as much of it as can be used on the spot should be used there. What is there at this moment to prevent the issuing of a regulation by the Department of Air or the Department of the Army, empowering officers on the spot to dispose of certain small articles of equipment at fixed prices, the prices having been fixed and the goods examined by a competent official?

Mr Makin - If the honorable member has had knowledge of specific cases, why has she not made representations to the appropriate Minister?

Dame ENID LYONS - Representations were made to me, in the first place, by servicemen returning from Rabaul, and I realized that in that instance certain difficulties would have to be overcome. But this is something which was brought tomy notice two days ago by a man who had just been discharged from theRoyal Australian Air Force and has personal knowledge of it. He discussed the matter from thestandpoint of what could best be done in the disposal of the property. What astounds me is, that no one can suggest a method for disposing of something without being accused of making a bitter attack, or being suspected of doing so. I wish something helpful could be done in this matter.

Mr Chambers - The honorable member has not said what articles were destroyed or what condition they were in.

Dame ENID LYONS - I have mentioned certain things that were destroyed, including cooking equipment and huts. I suggest that it would be better to dispose of the goods on the spot rather than collect them and transport them to a centre hundreds of miles away for disposal. In that way they could be bought by people who need them and could make use of them. Under the present system, persons of small means cannot travel to the disposal centre to take advantage of the big auctions. The result is that dealers buy everything, and those to whom the goods eventually go for use have to pay more than would otherwise be the case. I know that there are difficultiessuch as labour shortages, congestion of transport &c, but I cannot understand why people who are near the spot where the goods are situated should be denied an opportunity to buy them. To me it is no argument at all to say that because a certain thing cannot be obtained by a housewife in Melbourne, therefore a housewife at Bourke shall not have it. I prefer to look at these matters from the standpoint of the individual citizen, as well as keeping in mind the overall policy of the disposal of goods in the most economical method. This matter goes beyond mere business methods. I am not a great exponent of business methods, but I believe in giving consideration to human needs as well as to business efficiency. I am convinced that what I have suggested could be done to the benefit of the people concerned.

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