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Wednesday, 11 August 1926

The PRESIDENT - Yes, but only along certain specified lines.

Senator DUNCAN - Surely I am in order in pointing out that the Government, which has granted relief to the taxpayers in certain directions, is now increasing taxation in other directions ! A tax on amusements, which, after all, are not essential to the welfare of the community, is taken off, whereas it is proposed to place a tax on transport, which is vital to the progress of this country. The Government has adopted an entirely wrong course. I am opposed to this measure. The Government must claim that the revenue to be derived from this tax is necessary, otherwise it would not have introduced this legislation. The Minister has disputed my statement that the revenue of the Commonwealth this year will probably be greater than that of last year. The Treasurer has estimated that the revenue of the Commonwealth for the year 1926-27 will be approximately £51,000,000, of which £40,500,000 will be derived from Customs duties. In my opinion, he has under-estimated the revenue from Customs this year, as he has under-estimated it in the past. In view of the necessity for other countries finding markets for their produce, and the fact that Australia has one of the best buying populations in the world, it is likely that the Customs revenue will show a considerable increase.

Senator Crawford - An increase of Customs revenue has been budgeted for.

Senator DUNCAN - Yes; but I predict that even that increase will be exceeded. The amount received from Customs duties, instead of being £40,500,000 as estimated by the Treasurer,' is likely to be nearer £60,000,000. In addition, the Government, with the approval of Parliament, has made arrangements to borrow £10,560,000. This tax, I understand, is estimated to yield about £1,000,000 per annum, which is a large sum to be contributed by one section of the community - the motor users. If a tax on petrol were necessary in order to balance the ledger, the position would be different; but in view of the bounding revenues of the Commonwealth, the probability of another large surplus this, year, and particularly the Government's pledge to reduce taxation, it is not justified.

Senator Crawford - The Government gave no pledge to reduce taxation. If Senator Duncan, during the election campaign, gave such a pledge on behalf of the Government, he acted without authority.

Senator DUNCAN - During the election campaign, it was freely stated that there was every indication of a reduction of taxation' if the Government was returned to power. All that the Government proposes to do under this scheme could be done without additional taxation being imposed. Let us consider the position in which we should find ourselves in the event of the good seasons and -the high prices for our products, which we now enjoy, no longer continuing. In that event, Australia would find difficulty in raising the revenue necessary to meet its obligations. .

Senator Crawford - The whole of the Commonwealth is not enjoying a prosperous season.

Senator DUNCAN - Does the whole of the Commonwealth ever enjoy a uniformly good season? Speaking generally, the present season is a good one throughout the Commonwealth.

Senator Crawford - More than half of the cattle of the Commonwealth are in Queensland, where, as the result of a severe drought, ' many thousands of cattle have died this year.

Senator DUNCAN - I am aware o) that; but I remind the Minister that, f0 some years, we have not depended for ou; prosperity on our cattle. Had we been . forced to do so, we should indeed have been in sore straits. I was speaking particularly of our wool and wheat, and other primary produce upon which we are dependent for our material prosperity. It is to be hoped that the cattle industry will not always experience the bad times which, unfortunately, it is experiencing now. Should the Commonwealth experience a succession of unsatisfactory seasons, affecting our primary produc-tion, what would be our position if committed to this huge expenditure? Weshould be in " Queer-street." It is timethat the Government considered where its policy might lead the country. If there; is one thing in this . country which the Government should assist, instead of hampering, it is transport. Yet, this tax is a tax on transport.

Senator Crawford - Transport is dependent upon roads.

Senator DUNCAN - That. is so, to an extent; but in order to provide good roads, it is not necessary, to levy this tax upon transport. Good roads benefit the whole community, and not only the road users, seeing that they cheapen transport, and ultimately reduce prices. That being so, the Government is not justified in taxing only one section of the community -to provide good roads. ' We must not lose sight of the fact that motor traction is not the only means of transport in this country. Much of our primary and manufactured produce is carried in heavy horse-drawn vehicles, which probably do more harm to the roads than that caused by motor vehicles. I have said that this tax will be paid by motor users. In statements that have been made by tha

Minister (Senator Crawford) and supporters of the ; measure -in another place, it has been claimed that this tax will be paid by the oil companies with the exception of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the local company to which the Government is more or less committed, and which this Parliament has agreed to finance to a certain extent. I do not believe that the oil companies will pay the tax. I hold no brief for those companies. I know what they have done in many ways to Australia, and the influence which they have been able to exert in the United States of America and 'other countries. They constitute a huge combine. I remind the Government that if the amendments of the Constitution, upon which the people are to : be asked to vote, are agreed to, it will have full power to take action against the Oil Trust and kindred bodies in any way that is thought desirable in the interests of the public. Does the Government consider- that the imposition of a duty of 2d. a gallon -upon petrol will have any material effect upon the oil companies, or that 1 they will consent to bear the additional expense? The Minister is aware that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited produces only 10 per cent; of -Australia's requirements of petrol, and nearly, the whole of that quantity is used in Victoria. Those -who are able to secure supplies from that source' - Victorians principally - may perhaps benefit by the imposition of this tax. But what will be the position of motor users in the other States, where it is not possible to purchase, the product of that concern ? They are now compelled to use the product of the trust, and they will have to pay the increased price that will he demanded. The contention has been advanced that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited will be able to increase the number of its refineries, and that such will be established in Sydney. That has been denied: there is, at present, no proposal to increase the number of refineries that are controlled by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It is claimed that the imposition of this tax will hit the oil trust. From what source does the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited procure its supplies of raw oil? It makes its purchases from the Anglo-Persian Oil

Company. Will any honorable senator argue that that company has no connexion with the oil trust? There is a hard and fast secret agreement between them regarding the price that shall be charged, and it is not possible to purchase supplies from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company for a fraction of a penny less than from the Standard Oil Company or the other members of the trust.

Senator Crawford - What proof has the honorable senator of that statement?

Senator DUNCAN - Will the minister assert that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited purchases from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at a cheaper rate than that at which it could purchase from the Standard Oil Company ?

Senator Crawford - I say that the honorable senator has merely made an assertion, without having the slightest proof of its correctness.

Senator DUNCAN - The facts are obvious to everybody. It is constantly stated that the Oil Trust makes huge profits.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited made a loss of £53,000 last year.

Senator DUNCAN - If the AngloPersian Oil Company had at heart only the benefit of the public, it would not charge the exorbitant prices that are alleged to be charged by the other oil companies. At any rate, its charge would be less to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The deductions that we are able to draw from facts that are in our .possession make it abundantly clear that there is a secret agreement between the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the members of the trust. We should, therefore, be benefiting the former without penalizing the latter.. I am prepared to do my utmost to assist any local concern. I should like to see the Government give substantial assistance to a purely Australian company which would produce oil in Australia. We have the raw material in several districts, and with proper expenditure and good management we should make ourselves independent of outside sources of supply. At the present time we are entirely dependent on those outside sources, as our operations are confined to the refining of the oil. The Government is proceeding along wrong lines by increasing taxation at a time when the circumstances warrant a reduction. "For the reasons which I have stated I am opposed to the measure, and I hope that it will not be carried. Its rejection will not nullify the roadsagreement ; the only difference will be that the Government will have to find the money in some other way.

Senator Pearce - Oh, no; these two matters go together. The roads bill is dependent upon the passing of this measure.

Senator DUNCAN - I do not think so. We have in the past succeeded in financing a roads scheme without the imposition of a petrol tax.

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