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Wednesday, 16 December 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - The purpose of the amendment seems to be to place lessees of Crown lands in exactly the same position as lessees of private lands as regards assessment. That would be all right until re-appraisement took place. The safeguard proposed by the Minister is perhaps necessary now; but what will happen when reappraisement takes place ? The amended provision will still stand good, although the reappraisement is made by the State with the distinct knowledge that the lessee is paying the Federal land tax, and although that fact will be taken into consideration in re-appraising the rent. In spite of that re-adjustment, the Commonwealth will go on assessing the Crown lessees as if their leases had been made before the commencement of the Act.

Senator Pearce - Sub-sections 1 and 2 of section 27 may have a bearing on that point.

Senator MILLEN - It is really a matter for the legal advisers of the Government to take the responsibility of, and I trust the Minister will consult them as to whether the point I have raised is a sound one or not.

Senator Pearce - The amendment will not mean that the valuation is to be the same as if the lease was in existence before the commencement of the Act. It means simply that the method of valuation and assessment in regard to Crown leases shall be the method applied to private leases entered into before the commencement of the Act.

Senator MILLEN - There is a difference in the treatment of those who obtain their leases before and after the commencement of the Act, because those who obtained leases before the Act was passed entered into their contractual obligations without any knowledge that such an impost was to be levied; whereas those who took up leases after the passing of the Act made their arrangements in the light of that knowledge. I would point out that, on re-appraisement, the reason for differential treatment disappears. However, my duty ends with pointing out what may be found a little later on to be a defect in the section.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [12.35].- It is difficult to deal with a proposal of this kind which is sprung on us without a moment's notice. Although the law officers of the Crown have a certain amount of responsibility, we, after all, are responsible for the Bills that we pass, and we should know before a provision finally leaves our hands the exact interpretation placed on it by the Government. It is desired to put this business through expeditiously to allow us to get away; but, in the circumstances, we may pass a highly technical provision like this in good faith, believing that it is an improvement on the Act, to find afterwards that we have made a serious mistake. This proposal appears to have been drafted hurriedly, because, had the necessity been foreseen, it would have been included in the Bill as laid before us. Possibly, the defect has been discovered owing to the debate that has taken place. Sub-section 3 of section 27 refers to owners of the fee-simple who are exempt under section 13 of the Act. Section 13, among other things, re-affirms what the Constitution lays down, that all land owned by a State, or by a municipal, local, or other public authority of a State, shall be exempt from taxation. We now take out of that exemption land leased from the Ci;own. Does it not seem that we are directly attempting to override section 13, which reaffirms tie principle laid down by the Constitution that land owned by a State shall not be taxed; and are we not, therefore, attempting to override the Constitution itself? The land leased by a State is still owned by the State. If honorable senators opposite recognise that they have no right to tax land which is owned by the State, how can they tax the lessee who holds his title from the Crown? The amendment, I am afraid, will tend to create difficulties in the administration of the Act. I admit that I have no sympathy with the Act, and I do not feel called upon to deal with it from a sympathetic standpoint. It is a dry question of law as to whether the Committee is entitled to put in any words of this character. It answers the objection which has been taken as to the unrighteous attempt of the Government to deal with property of this kind. However, the Government have been advised that it is desirable to put in the provision, otherwise they would not have submitted the amendment. I assume that honorable senators on the other side will do now as they have done all through, and that is, accept the advice given them. They are supporting the Government, and are content not to worry, but to take what is offered to them .

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