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Thursday, 13 October 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - Honorable senators ha,ve perhaps overlooked the fact that there has been a continuation of the debate which I fondly hoped had terminated yesterday .afternoon. One statement, which has reference to the Budget-papers which were under discussion on that occasion was in connexion with arrears of income and war-time profits taxes outstanding. The approximate amount is £8,927,000, and the question naturally arises as to why such a large amount has not been collected. I think honorable senators are aware that under the War-time Profits Tax Act a heavy percentage of the profits made was collected, but owing to the diminution in values and assets, many firms would have be&n ruined if they had not been granted time in which to meet their obligations. Had the Government insisted upon their pound of flesh, what would have happened ? I have no doubt in the matter. One dan only express a general view; but I think it is fair to say that if a demand had been made, we might have collected 75 per cent, of the amount, and ruined those responsible for ,the payment of the remaining 25 per cent.

Senator Crawford - I mentioned the arrears, but I did not complain of the action of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook).

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I desire to make it clear that, had the Government demanded prompt payment, we would have been rightly denounced by every one from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the South, because many of those owing the money are not at present in a position to pay promptly. I believe the Government have acted aright in this direction.

Senator Crawford - The Imperial Government have had to do the same thing.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have honorable senators paused to consider what' the effect on the Budget would have been if we had demanded prompt payment? A good deal has been said outside' to the effect that the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) is going to spend more this year than he will receive; but let me say that the Treasurer can at once make up that deficit by demanding that those who owe the Government money shall pay. If I were preparing a balancesheet for a business concern, aud I had outstanding good debts, I would include them as an asset, and would be entitled to do so. If I did not, I would expect to be severely criticised. Seeing that the Commonwealth balance-sheet is a record of cash transactions, it is, perhaps, not legitimate to include such debts, but it gis legitimate to bear them in mind. I shall not deal with the alteration that would be effected if the whole of the debts in arrear were collected; but I shall point out what would happen if we collected only the extra amount of debts outstanding for last year. W,e commenced the year with debts amounting to £6,002,000 owing to the Government, and finished with the sum of £8,928,000 outstanding. That is to say, the Government have given credit over and above the £6,002,000 for £2,926,000, which is, broadly speaking,. the amount of the difference between the receipts and expenditure for this financial year. If the Commonwealth Government demanded, not the whole of the £8,928,000, but merely prompt payment of the excess credit which has been granted, the Treasurer would be able to show that the revenue and expenditure absolutely balanced . The amounts outstanding are : - Land tax, £1,503,000; succession duties, £90,000; income tax, £4,494,000; and war-time profits tax, £2,841,000. When the Federal Treasurer has budgeted for an income which is less than the expenditure, it should also be borne in mind that, if the Commonwealth demanded prompt payment of outstanding debts it would be able to show a Budget in which the revenue and expenditure would balance. If there is that difference, it means that the people Outside who are so loudly clamouring, are those who are getting the benefit, because it is from that very class that the loudest criticism comes.

Senator Wilson - From some of the individuals, too.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They are the class, and if they think it is so serious a defect, let them forgo the consideration shown by the Treasurer, and make prompt payment.

Senator Gardinerreferred to a statement in the Argus, and I can take no possible exception to the opinion he expressed. He has been sufficiently long in public and Ministerial life to understand the purposes and reasons for that species of entertainment known as "kiteflying." His association with the Defence Department, although not particularly with the Naval Branch, will have led him to believe that . such information as was published in the newspaper referred to is particularly prone to come from that quarter. Until I saw the statement published, I knew nothing about the matters referred to. I endeavoured to make inquiries, but they led me nowhere. Of two of the statements made in the Argus- I. am' in a position to give a flat contradiction. One statement is -

It is proposed that Australia should abandon that portion of Admiral Henderson's programme which provides for the upkeep of a Fleet controlled by the Commonwealth. .

Proposed by whom ? Some one may have proposed it. I can say at once that no such proposition has been submitted to the Government.

Senator Gardiner - Was it discussed at the Imperial Conference?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not in a position to say that; in any case, the question would be submitted to the Government iii due course. The Navy Board, or some Admiral, may have made such a proposal. Anybody is free to make any suggestion he likes, but no proposal has been even considered by, much less has it received the consent of, the Government. It is also stated in the Argus -

While the scheme may bo subject to modification or alteration in non-essentials, it is stated that on broad lines, its adoption is favoured by the Commonwealth Ministry.

That is a piece of pure fabrication. No such proposal has been submitted to the Government, a.nd the statement that the Government favorably entertains it, is entitled to be referred to in stronger terms than I have adopted. I do not know what was discussed at the Conference, but I would__ remind the Senate of the definite pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that any conclusions arrived at there would be sub- .mitted to Parliament. I have no doubt that that will be done. This is one ofthe extraordinary statements which have been' put into the press, and which in my judgment have emanated from officials of the Navy Office itself. That is a serious statement, but during my time there the same thing happened. I shall say nothing more about that matter.

Senator Duncan - Somebody ought to be discharged.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is very difficult to find out the exact origin of the report. I remember a case, at the outbreak of t H? war, where very serious statements were communicated to the press - statements which had no right to get there.

Senator Fosterspoke of the report of the Federal Income Tax Commissioner in regard to ex-soldiers employed in that Department. I know nothing about the matter, but I shall ask the Commissioner to furnish a report. I understood the honorable senator to say that the soldiers decline to attend certain classes which have been formed for them, as well as for other employees. Why do they decline^?

Senator Foster - I understand they were first asked to sit for a competitive examination, and then to attend the classes if they passed. They also said that the evening classes, which the Commissioner was prepared to inaugurate, would involve their working every night for six months at the class, and working overtime at the offices for the other six months.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am glad of that explanation:' I shall ask the Commissioner to read the remarks of the honorable senator and furnish a report. I shall then disclose the information to him.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

Second Beading.

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