Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 19 May 1926

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon T Givens - Only bills which the Senate may not amend can be debated on the motion for the first reading. This being such a measure, it is obviously open to discussion at this stage. The object of allowing a first-reading debate on a bill of the class I have mentioned is that honorable senators may discuss matters that are not relevant to the bill itself. Paradoxical as it may seem, the more irrelevant an honorable senator's remarks may be to the subject-matter of the measure, the more relevant they are. There is no limitation upon what an honorable senator may discuss on the first readings - his remarks may be relevant or irrelevant - and, therefore, I cannot rule that the honorable senator is out of order in discussing a relevant matter. A full opportunity to deal with the subject-matter of the bill itself will be given on the motion for the second reading, but if the honorable senator desires at this stage to bring before the Senate any matter that is not relevant to the bill he is entitled to do so.

Senator GRANT - I do not intend to deal with the bill except to say that the existing tariff does not, and never was, intended to, protect Australian industries. Its special object is to collect ' as much revenue as possible upon the articles proposed to be taxed. As I fully expected, the Minister who was in charge of the bill in the other branch of the legislature has cast his eyes upon the large number of articles at present admitted free of Customs duty. No doubt, if he could induce Parliament to raise the duties sufficiently high he would exclude all the goods manufactured in low-wage foreign protectionist countries. A large number, of people in Australia honestly believe that a protectionist tariff opens up fresh and maintains existing avenues of employment for the workers of Australia. The present shrewd Minister for Trade and Customs is under no such illusion. He looks upon the tariff as an instrument for the production of revenue, and for the express and very definite purpose, not of protecting industrial enterprises from competition, but of ensuring an overflowing treasury, thus avoiding the necessity for direct taxation. If this bill proposed to exclude foreign-made goods, and thereby rendered necessary their manufacture within the Commonwealth, there would be some reason for its introduction. But that is not its purpose at all. Nothing is further from the mind of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Experience has shown that in no country is a protective tariff sufficient to exclude foreign manufactured goods. In recent years we have borrowed large sums of money abroad. Every one knows that we do not get the actual cash, but that it comes to us in the shape of goods, and instead of allowing them to come in free of duty, we proceed, in effect, by means of Customs tariffs, to tax ourselves on money borrowed abroad.

Senator Findley - Why continue to borrow money abroad?

Senator GRANT - There is no necessity to do that, but governments continue to borrow in that way. It would be far better if, instead of raising our national revenue by means of Customs taxation, we adopted a more satisfactory system. Speaking from memory, I think that our Customs and Excise revenue last year amounted to the extraordinary sum of £36,000,000. The latest figures show that the amount for the current financial year will be, approximately, £40,000,000. The Government is at its wit's end to know what to do with this money. To consolidate the support of its Tasmanian friends, the Ministry has handed out substantial doles to that State. It is a wonder that the people of Tasmania consent to receive it, because we have been told that the distribution of the dole in Great Britain has had the effect of sapping the independence and extracting the marrow from the backbone of the people. The Government is also giving doles to Western Australia.I do not know how long the people of the other States will consent to this arrangement. If I had my way, it would cease at once. Just because an alleged freetrade country like Great Britain collects annually over £100,000,000 of revenue through the Customs House, the people of Australia are content to follow a bad example. Notwithstanding anything that may be said to the contrary, the fact should be clearly impressed upon the people that this tariff is not a proposal to exclude foreign-made goods from the Commonwealth. Figures relating to the revenue received from Customs show that, despite the tariff, goods are being imported in large quantities, instead of being made here.

Senator Ogden - If a 50 per cent. tariff will not keep them out, what will ?

Senator GRANT - If we are going to have a protective tariff - if a duty of 50 per cent. is not sufficient to ensure the manufacture of goods in Australia - why not be honest about it !

Senator Guthrie - Why does not the honorable senator wear Australian-made goods, and help Australian industries ?

Senator GRANT - I am wearing Australian tweed. I doubt very much if the honorable senator himself is clothed from head to foot in Australian-made articles of clothing.

Senator Guthrie - I am pleased to say that I am.

Senator Findley - Does Senator Guthrie ride about in a Ford motor car ?

Senator GRANT - Senator Guthrie is supporting a government that deliberately, and almost without any restriction, permits the importation of foreign-made goods to Australia. As I have stated, a protectionist tariff does not exclude foreign -made goods. The records of Victoria, and, indeed, of the Commonwealth, show that the people who have had control of the administration, have " put . one over " the honest workers, who have been led to believe that our tariff is sufficient to exclude foreign-made goods. The present Government has no intention, and, in my opinion, never will have any intention, of excluding foreign goods.. Its purpose is, not to protect Australian manufacturing industries or Australian workers, but to safeguard land-owners from direct taxation. It is extraordinary that last year £36,000,000 was collected from the people through the Customs, and only a paltry £2,000,000 from the real owners of the Commonwealth. Some years ago I had a return prepared for the information of honorable senators, showing, among other things, that the unimproved value of the land in the Commonwealth was more than £445,000,000. Yet the owners of the land, who may be termed the owners of the Commonwealth, pay a paltry sum of £2,000,000 a year.

Senator H Hays - They also pay Customs duties.

Senator GRANT - Not as landowners.

Senator Guthrie - Do not the landowners pay duty on the imported goods used by them?

Senator GRANT - As land-owners, they pay annually to the revenue of the Commonwealth a paltry sum of only £2,000,000.

Senator Guthrie - Over and above everything else that they pay. It is a class tax.

Senator GRANT - Taxation through the Customs House is a most iniquitous form of taxation.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator is in favour of taxing only one section of the community?

Senator GRANT - I believe in taxing those who own . the country.

Senator Guthrie - They are already overtaxed. The honorable senator does not know what he is talking about.

Senator GRANT - Does the honorable senator suggest that persons who own over £445,000,000 worth of land, and pay only £2,000,000 a year are overtaxed.

Senator Guthrie - That is only one form of taxation. Customs and other taxation is additional. At any rate, they paid for the land which they own.

Senator GRANT - The majority of them did. Other taxpayers have also to pay Customs duties, but the fact that they pay for the goods does not save them from direct taxation. I notice that the coal-miners in Great Britain, who have recently been on strike, have been complaining because the colliery owners in that country have been collecting £6,000,000 a year in the way of royalties. Others object to the paltry £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 received by the Royal family, but, for some reason, they carefully avoid commenting upon the fact that the landowners of Great Britain collect annually £300,000,000 for giving British people the right to live in their own country. Such a condition of affairs is being gradually brought about in the Commonwealth. I think this is an opportune time to ask the Senate to realize what it is about to do. I know an overwhelming majority of members of this Parliament favours collecting as much revenue as possible through the Customs House, and I also know why an intelligent section favour this form of taxation. I feel certain that the Minister for Customs (Mr. Pratten) and those who support him know exactly what they are doing, but, in my opinion, they are quite wrong. Instead of collecting enormous sums by . way of duties on imported goods, which does not 'prevent their importation into the Commonwealth, we should see if it is not possible to obtain revenue in a more equitable manner. I think it is. For instance, in New South Wales, our city, municipal, and shire authorities have a very excellent system of taxation, which also has been in operation in Queensland for more than 30 years. As honorable senators are aware, the local governing bodies in that State impose taxation upon the unimproved value of the land as laid down by Henry George in his notable work, entitled Progress and Poverty. Queensland adopted that policy more than 30 years ago for local government purposes, and that system is, to a large extent, being adopted by the Labour Government in that State, with very good results, as its policy for raising revenue.

Senator Thompson - The taxation of unimproved land values was first introduced in Queensland by a Liberal Government.

Senator Crawford - It was introduced 40 years ago.

Senator GRANT - It may have been.

Senator Graham - Is it not satisfactory ?

Senator Crawford - Unfortunately, the taxation of unimproved values is not the only tax imposed in-Queensland.

Senator GRANT - It is a very good form of taxation', and the State land tax in Queensland is imposed on that principle, with perhaps some slight variations. The marvellous progress made by the city of Sydney during the last fifteen years has been due almost entirely to the fact that improvements are not taxed, as is the practice in such obsolete cities as Melbourne, Hobart, and Perth. The Government of New South Wales does not approach the Federal authorities for a dole as do the Governments of Western Australia and Tasmania. It would not dream of doing such a thing. The people who own the land in New South Wales contribute the local revenue required. That is why Sydney has so completely outstripped Melbourne during the last few years, and it will continue to do so until the authorities of this city realize that taxation here is based upon a wrong principle. Instead of collecting our national revenue through the Customs House, we should make the owners of the land contribute more than they are paying to-day. I am very glad to see that, according to the press, the Government contemplatesretiring from the field of direct income taxation. That is a step in the right direction. They should proceed further and abandon their determination to raise pur national revenue through the Customs House, and throw a very large financial responsibility directly upon the owners of the land. Just imagine collecting money on articles imported into the Commonwealth, and then distributing it in an expensive way among the State authorities for roads construction. I am sure that whatever else was contemplated at the inception of federation, it was not for a moment thought that the Commonwealth Government would take a hand in road construction. They have adopted this policy because as soon as a new road or a railway is built, or any improvements are effected, there is a substantial increase in the value of the land in the immediate locality, towards which the land-owners, as such, make no contribution whatever. The money spent on such work is collected from those who purchase imported articles on which duty is paid at the Customs House, and is then handed back as a gift to those who own this country. It is a persistent effort on the part of the Government to place the taxation of the country upon the poorest section, and to hand over the proceeds to the wealthy members of the community. I know that there is no hope of amending the measure; the Government has its majority, and the bill as submitted to us will be passed by this chamber. I enter my emphatic protest against the continued imposition of Customs duties for the express purpose of enabling the owners of the country to escape their fair share of taxation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bil] read a first time.

Suggest corrections