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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator STEWART (Queensland) .. - I do not wish to say much in reference to the late hour at which the Estimates will be submitted for our consideration this year. That tale has been repeated so often by honorable senators that we are heartily sick of the sound of our own voices. Every Government seems to be tarred with the same brush. They delay the submission of the Estimates till the last hour of the session, when honorable senators are not in a fit frame of mind to discuss them. But there are on° or two matters which are of even greater importance to the people of this great country to which I should like to direct attention.

If I interpret the verdict of the last general election aright, a mandate was given to the party which is now in power to break up the land monopoly which undoubtedly exists in Australia to a much more serious extent than it exists in any other country with which I am acquainted, and to reduce the disproportion which obtains between direct and indirect taxation. That clear, definite, and distinct mandate was given by the electors to the Government which is now in power. In addition, the electors gave it a majority which placed it in power in one House for a term of one Parliament, and in the other branch of the Legislature for a. period of two Parliaments. The country was so conscious of the value of the policy offered to it by the Labour party, that it gave it an opportunity to put that' policy into practice - an opportunity that no Government ever had before, and that no Government will probably ever have again. What has been done? An attempt has doubtless been made to break up the big estates. A comparatively small tax has been imposed, with an exemption of £5,000, and as a consequence a few estates have been sold. But those of us who take an interest in land settlement, know that it is just as difficult to obtain land in the Commonwealth to-day as ever it was. I think we are all agreed that what Australia needs above everything else is population. We require people for defence purposes. We want to become, as far as possible, independent of the protection of the Mother Country, and we can achieve that position only by adding largely to' our population. That being so, it behoves every man who has the welfare of his country at heart, to see that there is land available for the thousands of immigrants who would come here from Europe if land were obtainable. As a matter of fact, it is exceedingly difficult to secure land in any State of the Commonwealth, with the exception of Western Australia. I heard Senator Barker interject a little time ago. Will he tell me how much cheap land is available to immigrants in Victoria ?

Senator Barker - None at all.

Senator STEWART - Yet the honor able senator has done absolutely nothing. In Victoria, land monopoly is a disgrace to civilization. I do not blame the State Labour party for this result. They have done their best to break up that monopoly. In the State Parliament, the Labour party have never had an opportunity to deal with this evil, but in the Commonwealth Parliament they have that opportunity. Some day the country will want to know why that opportunity has not been availed of. Let us turn our eyes for a moment to New South Wales. Will the representatives of that State tell me that it is easy to get cheap land there within easy access of railways - the kind of land that European immigrants require? I know that it is not. It is very difficult to get land of that character in Queensland, where more Crown lands are available than are available in New South Wales. In South Australia, what is the position?

Senator Vardon - There are millions of acres available forsettlement.

Senator STEWART - As a matter of fact, South Australia is almost as barren of land which is suitable for settlement as is any State of the Commonwealth. Let us turn now to Western Australia, a State which is granting settlers homestead blocks of 160 acres free of charge. I was told the other day, by a representative of that State, that these lands cannot be obtained nearer to a railway than from 10 to 30 miles. It is not right that immigrants should be asked to come from the Old Country to Australia, where millions of acres lying unused are held by land monopolists within the rainfall area, and that we should force those immigrants to settle in the back country 10, 20, or 30 miles from a railway. These are my reason's for saying that the Labour party in this Parliament have failed in their duty in this connexion. The mandate which they received was to break up large estates. These estates have not been broken up. Some honorable senators may urge that the Labour party are " cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd " by an exemption of £5,000. That statement is quite true. But they were not "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd" in regard to the amount of taxation which they were empowered to impose. If the land tax which is now levied is not sufficient to break up the big estates, it is ourbounden duty to see that those estates are broken up, because the prosperity - nay, the very existence - of Australia, depends upon our ability to attract a larger population to our shores.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Has the honorable senator ever made a definite suggestion for improving the existing condition of things ?

Senator STEWART - I am making a suggestion which is not only definite, but one to which this Parliament may give effect if it so desires. I am discharging my duty as an Australian citizen, and as the representative of an Australian State. We had an opportunity to do this thing, and we have not done it. That opportunity may not again offer itself to any Government within, the next fifty years. With regard to the general question of taxation, it has been one of the cardinal principles in the policy of the Labour party that direct taxation should be substituted at as early a date as possible, and as largely as possible, for indirect taxation. No doubt, an attempt has been made to institute direct taxation in the Commonwealth. We are now deriving about £1,500,000 per annum from a land values tax. But, as against that, we are getting nearly £14,000,000 sterling from taxation through Customs and Excise. The total estimated revenue from taxation during the current financial year is £15,500,000. Of that, £ j 4,000,000 will be derived from Customs and Excise, and £1,500,000 from direct taxation. In other words, 90 per cent, of our revenue is derived from Customs and Excise, and 10 per cent, from direct taxation. Here, again, the Government and the party behind them have had an unique opportunity of altering the- incidence of taxation. They could, if they liked, reduce the receipts from Customs and Excise to, say, a total of 70 per cent., and, increase the revenue from direct taxation to possibly 30 per cent. But, instead of that, there seems to be no inclination to interfere with the revenue from Customs and Excise. The Government, unfortunately, for various reasons, find that they require a large and ever-increasing revenue. The expenditure is going up by leaps and bounds To obtain money through Customs and Excise taxation is easy. The people do not know that they are paying it. Therefore, they do not grumble. That is the best means a politician can use for raising cash. Well, I admit that, if the people are to be deceived - if this money is to be taken out of their pockets simply because they do not know that it is being levied from them - it is a wise policy to pursue. But it is a policy in direct opposition to all the principles which have been laid down by the party to which I belong. Our principle has always been direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation. I do not need to tell the members of the Senate that Customs taxation falls most heavily upon the very poorest section of the people. The poorer the people are the more they contribute to the revenue through the Customs in proportion to their incomes. In this connexion it is almost amusing to observe what has occurred in New South Wales. The senators from that State probably know the details better than I do, but my recollection is that, under a recently enacted income tax, there is a general exemption of £300 a year and a further exemption for each child in a taxpayer's family.

Senator Blakey - That would not benefit the honorable senator or me.

Senator STEWART - I would ask the honorable senator to be serious. We are discussing a question which I think vitally affects the welfare of Australia.

Senator Pearce - That is a serious question in Australia. If we all followed the honorable senator's example, it would be very serious.

Senator STEWART - If the honorable senator cannot be serious, he might at least allow me to proceed. It is very curious to observe the action of the New South Wales Government and Parliament in this connexion. If I remember rightly, a short while ago they were just as clamant as the Governments of the other States that the Customs and Excise taxation should be kept on as high a level as possible, so that they might derive a large revenue from that source. Here we find the Government and Parliament of that State willing to allow heads of families a remission of income tax by a general exemption of £300, and a further remission, where the income exceeds that amount, for each child. Yet they fail to note this fact - that the poorer a man is, the lower his wages are, and the bigger his family, the more he contributes in taxation through the Customs. I say that the time is ripe for a radical reformation in our system of taxation. As far as I am concerned, I have no use whatever for Customs taxation for revenue-producing purposes. If a. Tariff does not create industries, sweep it away. Let us either have Free Trade orsuch a Tariff as will stimulate industrieswithin our own borders. Our present Tariff is not Free Trade; it is not Protectionist ; therefore, it must ' be what isknown as a revenue Tariff ; and that is the most iniquitous kind of Tariff of all as far as the great mass of the people are concerned. I think that the policy of Australia, with which a vast majority of the Australian people are in accord, is a policy of Protection, a policy which will give us such a Tariff as, instead of pouring hup sums of money into the public Treasury, will create industries within the boundaries of Australia. Is our present Tariff doing that ? I do not think that any man who examines the figures, and compares them with those of years that have passed, can say anything but this - that in our Tariff we have one of the most effective revenueproducing machines to be found in any part of the globe. In Free Trade Great Britain, the direct taxation is, I think, between 50 and 60 per cent. of the whole. Ours is only 10 per cent. In nearly every civilized country of which I know anything, the proportion of direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation is much greater than in Australia. I find that the estimated revenue from the Tariff for the present year approaches very closely to £14,000,000 sterling, or about £3 2s. 6d. per head of the population. In 1906, the revenue from the Tariff was £9,500,000. So that the Customs and Excise revenue has increased at least 45 per cent, in five years. The population during the same period has increased 10 per cent. I think that that is abounding evidence to every man who cares to consider the subject dispassionately that our Tariff is not protective. The evidence of that fact is overwhelming. Imports are pouring in toan immense value. They are going up by leaps and bounds. Yet no attempt has been made, or is likely to be made, by the present Government so to arrange our Tariff as to create industries rather than produce revenue.

Senator Vardon - The people are not here to man the. present industries.

Senator STEWART - If the policy which the people of Australia gave the present Parliament a mandate to carry out had been carried out, the people would be here, and the industries would be here. But, instead of doing what we were told to do, we have been drifting away on to unimportant side issues, neglecting those great vital questions which affect not only the present welfare of Australia, but probably her very existence as a nation. No matter what may be any one's views about immigration or the manning of industries, or anything of that kind, that is a policy, or want of policy, with which no good citizen of Australia can possibly agree. We are all united on this point - that we want more people here. We want as many industries within our borders as we can possibly have. We want to be as self-contained as it is possible to be. We are all agreed upon that point. Then why do not we try to carry that policy out? Why do we not pass such legislation as will break down the land monopoly which is strangling Australian progress from end to end of the continent ?

Senator McGregor - Did the honorable senator move any amendment on the Land Values Assessment Bill?

Senator STEWART - If I had moved amendments, not a single one would have been carried. Would not the honorable senator have treated my amendments in the most flippant fashion ? Would he not have looked upon me as a person who was hostile to the Government, and, therefore, as one whom it was desirable to sit upon or stamp upon, or treat in some such fashion? The honorable senator knows just as well as I do that I could not have carried a single amendment, could not have altered a single line or word or letter in one of his Bills.

Senator Long - The honorable senator never will if he never tries.

Senator STEWART - The VicePresident of the Executive Council was a member of the Government. It was for him, and for his colleagues, to try. It is not for a private member of Parliament to do this kind of thing. He cannot do it. It was not possible for me. The Government have their men behind them.

Senator Henderson - I thought the honorable senator was in the party.

Senator STEWART - I am.

Senator Henderson - Oh, are you?

Senator STEWART - I am; but iti appears to me that the honorable senator and a number of others, although they have not left the party, have at least deserted the principles of the party, or some of them. That is the position. If the honorable senator wants me to talk straight to him he has got it. They are nominally in. the party, of course, but, as a matter of fact, they have deserted several of its cardinal principles, as 1 think the people of Australia will very soon discover.

Senator Millen - The people are only waiting an opportunity to let the honorable senator's party know it.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator is also waiting for his opportunity. I may tell him candidly that, while I have no particular faith in the present Government, I have very much less faith in any Government in which he is. likely to be.

Senator Millen - I have not seen much evidence of any faith on the part of the honorable senator in any Government.

Senator STEWART - If I may use a phrase which may be regarded as rather vulgar, 1 am between the devil and the deep blue sea. The devil is on my right, and the deep blue sea is on my left. Between them there seems to be a disinclination to do anything of any particular value, as far as the people of the Commonwealth are concerned. I put a few questions to the Vice-President of the Executive Council the other day with regard to the intentions of the Government as to the land tax and the Tariff, and the reply of the honorable senator, given in his usual flippant fashion, was that the immigrants to Victoria had come here because of the land tax. Yet everybody who has cared to inquire into the question knows that there has been no breaking up of big estates worth mentioning In this State. I do not believe that 10 per cent, of the immigrants who came here the other day are able to buy land on such terms as it is obtainable, in Victoria above every other State in the Commonwealth. For the benefit, not only of those who are listening to me, who know it just as well as I do, and refuse to take any action, but also for any of the people outside who care to read Hansard, I repeat that land monopoly, notwithstanding the tax which has been imposed by the Federal. Parliament, remains practically undisturbed, and until it is moved to a much greater extent than has been done already, nothing profitable in the way of land settlement is possible in any State. I do not except even Western Australia.

Senator Vardon - What do you propose to do?

Senator STEWART -I suggest the breaking up of the land monopoly, the getting for the people the community-created value of the Commonwealth.

Senator St Ledger - Would you lower the exemption?

Senator STEWART - Undoubtedly I would lower the exemption.


Senator Millen - I suppose that you mean that you would abolish the exemption.

Senator STEWART - I hope that the Federal Conference which will sit very shortly at Hobart will see the necessity of lowering the exemption.

Senator Ready - There is very little chance.

Senator STEWART - If that is the case so far as breaking up the land monopoly of Australia is concerned, every Labour man sitting here may just as well leave the Chamber, and go back to his work whatever it was before he came to Parliament, for all the value he will be to the Commonwealth in promoting land settlement.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorablesenator has been away to the Old Country, and knows nothing about the matter.

Senator STEWART - Unless that exemption is reduced, and the taxes increased, all our talk about extended land settlement in Australia is mere vapour and pretence. That is my opinion, which I will continue to express here if my lungs keep sound, and my vigour is maintained. I shall certainly say it elsewhere.

Senator St Ledger - And you were in the Labour movement before some of the others were born.

Senator STEWART -I am not making any reference to that.

Senator Henderson - He is one of the most recent converts. He never knew anything about the matter until the last few years.

Senator STEWART - There are some of my honorable friends here, and I believe that I might apply the remark to Senator Henderson, who know very little about it now. They may have been in Parliament for100 years, and their age, so far as I can discover, is only evidence of their want of knowledge.

Senator Millen - Are you suggesting the process of mental petrification?

Senator STEWART - Decay. I believe that Senator Henderson had a much better grip of these questions ten or fifteen years ago than he has to-day.

Senator Henderson - I have quite as good a grip of them as you have. I have forgotten more than you ever knew about them.

Senator STEWART -I can quite understand that the honorable senator has a great faculty for forgetting. In fact, he gives us evidence of that every day in this Chamber, but side discussions of this kind are not going to benefit the people of Australia, to promote land settlement, or to create industries, or to remedy the disproportion between direct and indirect taxation. It is the duty of the Labour party, I hold, to carry out its programme when it has the opportunity.


Senator STEWART - It may not have the opportunity in the next Parliament. It may, as I have said, never have an opportunity such as this.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - Hear, hear.

Senator STEWART - I know the honorable senator's mind just as well as if it were written in a book, and I could read it. What he thinks is this, " If the Labour party is only game to carry out its policy, it will fall flop, and we will come into power."' My opinion is that if the Labour party had been game to carry out its policy a year ago, it would have remained in perpetual power, because the benefits of that policy would have been so apparent by the time the party was in danger that the people would never have dreamt of driving it out of office. But it has been half-hearted, timid, sheepish in its attack on these great and vital questions. Land monopoly remains practically undisturbed.


Senator STEWART - We have read in Scripture about the siege of Jericho, how the bands went round, and played, and played, and played, and how at last the walls fell. But we have had a lot of band playing in Australia with regard to land monopoly.

Senator Blakey - The flute is going now.

Senator STEWART - The flute and other instruments have' been played, but land monopoly .is rearing its insolent head just as much as it has ever done in the history of the Commonwealth, lt is simply sniggering up its sleeve at. the weakness, the impotence, and the lack of courage displayed by the Labour party. The Labour party is not game to catch hold of the nettle, and deal with it.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have given the landlords enough for a time, anyway.

Senator STEWART - We have not given them anything. They are simply laughing at us. They expect that, at the next election, they will gain a majority in the House of Representatives, and that at the election after that they will get a majority in the Senate; and that then they can sweep away the legislation which the Labour party has brought in. That is exactly what the land-owners, and those who are associated with them, are thinking. They are not living in fear and trembling of the party at present in power.

Senator Millen - Some members of your party are thinking that, too.

Senator STEWART - I do not know what they are thinking, but I know what the honorable senator is thinking.

Senator Millen - And you are sharing that opinion, too.

Senator STEWART - I did not say what I think about it. I simply stated what honorable senators on the Opposition side were thinking. If Senator W. Russell imagines that the land monopolists are trembling in their shoes because there is a Labour party in power, he is very much mistaken. They have gauged the way of the Labour party. They know that there is a great deal more of sound and fury in their platform than there is of actual effort. I think that they are amply justified in their conclusion.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have a tax that realizes £1,400,000.

Senator STEWART - Does the honorable senator know that the communitycreated value in Australia which passes into the pockets of private individuals every year totals from £20,000,000 to £25,000,000? Yet he is satisfied to let such a stream of wealth as this, which belongs of right to the people of Australia, pass into the pockets of private individuals. Not only is he content to do that,, but he is also content to enter the homes of the poorest people of the Commonwealth, and almost crush them to the earth by means of in direct taxation.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You know that that is not so.

Senator STEWART - That is the result of the policy followed by the honorable senator.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Nothing of the sort.

Senator STEWART - This neglect of our duty, this neglect of the interests of the great mass of the people whom -we were sent here to represent, is staring, not only him in the face, but also the party with which he- is associated. We ought to attack these problems seriously. We are engaged in a siege in which, if we are now repelled - and the probability is that we shall be repelled - we shall not have the opportunity of renewing the attack with the same advantage on our side-, perhaps, during the lives of many who are here. Let us take the opportunity when it is in our hands. Let us use the weapon which the people of Australia have committed to our trust. Let us, in the interests of the people, break up land monopoly, and have such a Tariff as will not be a mere revenueproducing machine, grinding the- faces of the poorest people, but will create industries throughout the Commonwealth. To do this is possible for the Parliament which is in existence. The party which is pledged to carry out this policy has a large majority in each House. ' It is empowered by the people to carry this policy. I ask the party, in the name of the progress, the future development, the safety of Australia, to tackle .these questions manfully, and settle them, as it has the power, if it had the will, to do.

Senator ST.LEDGER (Queensland) £3-57]- - I desire to draw the attention of the Ministry to a grievance under which some of my constituents suffer, and that is the rate of payment to the medical officers who administer the quarantine law. I do not intend to name any particular case, because, more or less, the grievance is general. I may mention a particular case to the Minister, but the cases are on pretty much the same footing. Queensland is the gateway by which the traffic from the'1 East - the home of some dangerous diseases - passes along the eastern coast of Australia. Prior to Federation, Queensland set up a very strict quarantine law, and administered it every effectively. I believe that the care and vigilance with which Queensland watched this traffic, both before and since Federation, have, on more than one occasion, prevented the possibility of these diseases getting transplanted to our soil. It is to be hoped that the Government will show a keener appreciation of the work which the medical officers are doing. If honorable senators will refer to the Estimates, they will find that the allowances to these officers, who have most important duties to perform, are, in many cases, such that the Commonwealth ought to be ashamed of them. The passenger traffic which comes down the coast of Queensland from the East is very large; it is growing, and needs increasing watchfulness, because many of the diseases which come from that quarter are for a long time hatching. They may be in the ships which touch our coasts, and therefore require extreme vigilance and care in those stages. That has to be done, in the first instance, along the coast of Queensland. Seeing that, since the institution of the Commonwealth, it has been almost immune from epidemics of diseases from the East, and that that result has been due to the vigilance and the activity of the medical officers, especially in Queensland, I hope that the Government will recognise the importance of the work which they have done by paying them at something like a rate commensurate with the important duties which they perform on behalf of the Commonwealth. I may take advantage of another opportunity to call attention to particular cases to illustrate my remarks. There is another proposal which amounts to a grievance, and which, if not nipped in the bud, may become a scandal. It has not yet reached that stage, but it is a grievance proposed to be inflicted upon the whole of the Commonwealth. It has been reported in the newspapers, and the Minister's name has been mentioned in connexion with the matter, that during next recess, at a favorable opportunity, a second parliamentary tour will be arranged for the purpose of enabling certain members of this Parliament to visit the Northern Territory.

Senator Stewart - Will the honorable senator not .go up?

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