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Tuesday, 24 November 1959

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Bowden (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Order! I wonder if the honorable member realizes that this measure is related purely to motor cars?

Mr BIRD - I am pointing out the iniquity of the sales tax in any circumstances, whether it applies to motor cars or anything else. When the sales tax on cars was raised in 1956 to 30 per cent., members of the Opposition pointed out during the debate on that occasion that it was wrong in policy. To-day we are still pointing out that it is wrong in policy, and even worse, to extend sales tax to other motor vehicles at the maximum rate. To increase the sales tax on station vans from 16$ per cent, to 30 per cent, runs counter to all fair canons of taxation and levies the heaviest burdens on those who are least able to bear them.

Sales tax is uniform to all buyers. It ignores the principle of taxation being levied in accordance with ability to pay. The Australian Labour Party has nailed its colours to the mast on this matter. We believe in income tax because it can be levied according to the ability of the individual to pay.

I regret that this bill perpetuates a discrimination against the motor car industry. For some reason or other, in 1956 the Government singled out this industry for a particularly -heavy impost. It increased the rate of sales tax on motor cars from 161 to 30 per cent. I remind honorable members that with the extension of industries of all kinds throughout Australia to-day, motor transport is necessary, irrespective of its cost. Motor transport plays a very important part in the ramifications of Australian industry, whether it be primary or secondary. I have been particularly surprised to notice the marked silence of members -of

Mr Turnbull - We have not yet had a chance to speak.

Mr BIRD - Members of the Country P.arty have had .equal opportunity with all other members, "but they have not yet taken ;it. All I can say is that the silence of Dean Maitland pales into insignificance compared with the silence of members of the Country Party on this matter. When it was stated in .the Budget -speech -that the sales tax on .these particular vehicles would be increased, I .did not hear any member of the Country Party express .opposition. The contemplated increase in sales tax on station vans has 'been greeted with marked silence .on the part of the Country Party. Therefore, all I can say is that Country Party members have been remiss in the duty they owe to -their constituents.

When .all is said -and done .these vehicles will he purchased, in the main, .by constituents of country members. We are always .hearing about the rights of the man on the land. We are often told that he does mot receive -fair treatment from the city dweller. In this House we find the city dweller .sitting .alongside the representative from the -country. So far as the Labour Party is concerned we want to see fair play given to dwellers on the land. We do not want to see country dwellers facing the 'heavy impost of this tax. We are opposed to the increase in sales .tax. We would be very .'happy to be ,on the same side of the House as honorable members of the Country Party when the vote is taken on this particular issue. df this measure is carried, sales tax at the rate of 30 per .cent, will apply to the ordinary station van which .plays a tremendous part in Australia's development. The ordinary passenger vehicle is used for numerous purposes other 'than pleasure, lt is -sufficient to say that it plays an essential and integral part in our mode of 'life. If many -of our luxuries 'to which we are accustomed to-day -should disappear, nobody would be very greatly inconvenienced; but if, 'by waving a magician's -wand, every motor car and every station van were to be immobilized .our whole system of existence would -be -thrown into complete chaos. Yet it is proposed to increase the tax on station vans from l'6f .per .cent, to 30 per .cent.

Station vans are essential .to our way of living and, 'therefore, we should encourage people to buy them. This proposition will discourage the purchase of station vans because fewer people will 'be able to pay the tax when it is increased from 16i per cent, to 30 per cent. I want to see 'the standard of 'living in this community maintained at its present level. This measure will not advance that standard but on the contrary will decrease it. The plain, unvarnished fact is that without motor cars or station vans, both private and commercial, our existence would be very drab and moribund. For some mysterious1 reason, yet unexplained, one -section of industry - the motor industry - has been singled out for special attack. It was singled out in 1956, and it is 'being singled out again.

When we examine this proposition we find that station vans are to be brought into the fifth schedule which sets out the goods that are taxable at the rate of 30 per cent. They will be in the same category as motor cars, but station vans are not used primarily or principally for 'the transport -of persons. Goods set out in the second schedule are taxed at the Tate, of 25 per cent. Surely, no 'honorable member will contend that those .goods are more indispensable to the community than are motor cars, particularly -station vans, which will be subject to this impost. Goods in the second schedule include jewels, .plated ware, cut glassware, field glasses, 'fancy goods. If we are to have orderly 'development in this (country, people should be allowed to buy station vans at the lowest possible price.

I am pointing out as a result of that contention, therefore, that sales tax should be reduced to a very low rate indeed on these particular vehicles. After this bill becomes law they will be taxed at the rate of 30 per cent, instead of the present 161 per cent. Surely station wagons should not be taxed at a higher rate than jewels. Station vans are more important to the welfare and advancement of this country than is jewellery. Station vans are more important to this country's progress than are articles of fur. What contribution to the advancement of Australia will be made by articles of fur? I contend that station vans can make an important contribution to this country's progress.

Then there is the sales tax on cosmetics. Whilst 1 realize that the fair sex likes COSmetics, I regard station vans as more important to Australia than cosmetics are. Slot machines are to be in .the 25 per cent, sales tax category. Surely nobody will contend that a station van is less important to the community .than a slot machine. The contributions to national progress made by the .two articles simply cannot he compared. Totalisators are also in the 25 per cent, category. I should like some member on the Government side to tell .me what totalisators have done for the improvement and progress of this country.

The increase to 30 per cent, of the rate of tax on station vans .cannot be .justified when .one considers .the value of station vans to the .community compared with .the value ito the community of ,the other articles I have mentioned, which pay a lower rate .of tax. There are other articles which I could use to further the comparisons I have been matong, 'but T shall not mention them now. They are listed on page 75 of the report of the Commissioner of Taxation.

All the canons .of fair play, as well as the -necessity ito devise measures to help this country to progress, demand that the tate of sales tax ion station vans should not be increased. I should dike to 'direct the attention of honorable members to the statement Made by the Prime Minister in 1956 when the Government increased sales tax rates on motor vehicles to 30 per cent. - the percentage which will be paid -on station vans if this measure is passed.

We are well aware of the benefits which will ultimately flow from this industry.

He was referring to the motor car industry. He continued - but we are convinced that proper counterinflationary action requires that some temporary restraint should be laid upon it.

Some temporary restraint! All I can say is that this so-called temporary restraint has lasted for three and a half years, and the Government now proposes to put panel vans in the same category as that in which motor cars were put "in 1956 " temporarily ". Now let us see what was the effect of increasing sales tax on motor cars to 30 per cent, in 1956. In 1955, the year prior to that action, new motor car registrations numbered 239,000. Three years later, in 1958, despite a substantial increase in Australia's population, new registrations numbered only 23'8,000, or 1,000 less than in the year before the imposition of the 30 per cent. tax.

I put it to the House that if it ,is contended - as it was in 1956 - that motor cars were .placed in the 30 per cent, category in order to help to halt inflation, -there is no necessity to-day to increase the rate on station vans (to 30 per cent., because the Government claims that it has already halted inflation. That is why the Labour Party opposes this measure. We claim there is no necessity to increase sales tax on station vans, -because the reason that actuated the Government in increasing sales tax on other motor vehicles in 1956 has disappeared. This 'bill simply means that the vicious tax rate imposed on general motor vehicles in 1956 is now to be imposed on another section of the motor car industry - that concerned with the production of station vans. The contemplated rate of 30 per .cent, on station vans is punitive, oppressive and distinctly unfair, and the Labour 'Party is not prepared to perpetuate now the injustice that was meted out -to the motor .car industry in 1956. 'We would be perfectly happy if this legislation, instead of increasing the rate on station vans to 30 per cent, decreased the rate on motor cars from 30 per cent, .to J.6.J per .cent.- in other words, reversed the process.

I repeat that the increase in 1956 of the rate for motor cars to 30 per cent, was designed not so much to produce more revenue as to reduce the demand for motor cars. According to Government spokesmen, that measure has served its purpose, because we no longer have inflation. So, now that the Government has beaten inflation, the general rate for motor cars should be reduced from 30 per cent, to 16! per cent., the rate which applied before 1956. With the increased production that we have to-day, and the increasing revenue that Government speakers are always telling us about in this chamber, ad nauseam, there could be no better time to bring those rates back to the pre-1956 level.

This measure seeks to turn back the clock. It is a measure which has one purpose and will have only one result - that is, to decrease the sale of station vans when we should be doing everything possible to increase their sale, because station vans have in the past, and will in the future, play their part in increasing the standard of living in this country. They help the primary producer more than they help the city dweller. For that reason I confidently expect that to-night members of the Australian Country Party will recognize the logic and intelligence of the Labour Party's case on this measure and will support us in our opposition to this ill-conceived and ill-timed measure.

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