Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 18 March 1927

Senator HOARE (South Australia) . - Listening to the debate, one cannot escape being impressed by the arguments that have been used for and against this all-important measure. I do not know what action Senator Kingsmill proposes to take. I understood that he was opposed to the bill; but he appears to have smothered his conscience, because he has signified his intention of voting only against the third reading.

Senator Kingsmill - Certainly, if I do not get what I want.

Senator HOARE - The honorable senator knows perfectly well that he will not get what he wants.

Senator Kingsmill - Then it is certain that my vote will be cast against the third reading of the bill.

Senator HOARE - The honorable senator has a greater knowledge than I possess of what is in the mind of the Government. But I am practically convinced that neither he nor any other honorable senator who opposes the bill will secure any variation of its provisions.

Senator Kingsmill - Nothing is so bad that it is not susceptible of improvement, not even the Labour party.

Senator HOARE - There has been only one perfect man in the world's history, and he was crucified, so what hope is there for the honorable senator 1 Senator McLachlan, arguing in favour of the bill, said that the Governments of the States ought not to be consulted; that it was the people of the nation whose interests had to be considered. If that is a correct presentation of the case, let the Government submit this proposal to a referendum of the people, and obtain its verdict upon it. Senator Abbott said that the general public were not in the slightest degree interested in the proposal of the Government to abolish the -per capita payment. That statement was made also by Senator Grant. Even though the honorable senator thought it, he ought not to have said so, sitting, as he does, on this side of the chamber, and being opposed to the measure. Has the public generally expressed the opinion that the proposal ought to be accepted.

Senator Thompson - Yes.

Senator HOARE - Senator Thompson, I venture to think, has not heard a word said about it by any member of the general public. But it cannot be denied that the mighty press of Australia, which moulds public opinion, is strongly opposed to the Government on this matter.

Senator Sampson - It certainly tries to mould public opinion.

Senator HOARE - That it does is indisputable.

Senator Reid - The party to which the honorable senator belongs has grown in spite of the opposition of the public press of Australia.

Senator HOARE - The press will sway public opinion into opposing the Government. 1

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator ought to be pleased if that is to be the result.

Senator HOARE - The Government does not say what proposal it intends to submit to the representatives of the States. All that it claims is that its offer will be equivalent to the 25s. per capita. Who is to be the judge of what is that equivalent ?

Senator Pearce - The people.

Senator HOARE - I agree with the ^Minister, and I ask him and the Government to submit this question to the people. The Government is not willing to do so. If the States say of the proposals that are submitted to them, " They are not equitable ; they are not a quid pro quo," the Government will retort, " These are our proposals ; if you do not accept them we shall deal with you as we dealt with the people of South Australia on the question of the imposition of the petrol tax. Like a burglar in the night, we shall come upon you ; we shall rob you of your rights, and then issue a writ against you. We admit that you have asked us for bread and that w.e are giving you a stone." The argument of the opponents of the measure is that" the Commonwealth is too poor to continue the per capita payments. In 1909-10, when the payment of 25s. per capita was decided upon, the revenue which was obtained from the imposition of Customs and excise duties amounted to £11,500,000. In 191.8-19 that revenue had increased bv £6,000,000 to £17,500,000. Substantial as that increase was, it was insignificant compared with what took place in the ensuing eight years; because we find that in the present financial year, 1926-27, it is estimated that £44,500,000 will be received from that source. How can the Government plead poverty on those figures ? It has money to burn. A few months ago it was searching for avenues in which to dispose of its available surplus. It sought to gain the favour of the electors bv promising to make available a sura of £20,000,000 for the construction of roads, and an additional £20,000',000 for a housing scheme. It compelled the Governments of South Australia and Victoria to accept its road proposals, and it will adopt a similar attitude towards the States if they do not prove amenable to its wishes in this matter. It is acting upon the principle that " Might is right."

Senator Grant - The States will have to impose higher taxation.

Senator HOARE - Taxation will inevitably increase.I am unable to see how the States can in any other way make good the deficiency that will be caused by the withdrawal of the per capita payments. They cannot tax land to the extent that is possible under the federal authority.

Senator Thompson - That is not so. Queensland affords an example of the inaccuracy of the honorable senator's statement.

Senator HOARE - The States have not the power that is possessed by the Commonwealth Government.

Senator Thompson - In Queensland the exemption is only £300.

Senator HOARE - The Governments of the States will have to rely upon direct taxation to a greater extent than they are now oompelled to do, whilst the Commonwealth Government will be free to adopt a benevolent role and rely solely upon indirect taxation. Indirectly it is possible to tax the coat off a man's back without raising a murmur from him; but once you begin to tax him directly he kicks up a terrible fuss. Thus the Governments of the States will become unpopular, and the Commonwealth Government will be given the credit of having lightened the load of taxation. Federation would not have been established but for the co-operation of the States. When they were casting a vote for federation a number of people thought that it would lead to the Abolition of State Governors and State Parliaments; they had no idea that two additional legislative bodies would be superimposed upon those that then existed. We owe a very great deal to the States. They have had a hard row to hoe. Their obligations have increased in a much greater ratio than have those of the Commonwealth, and they are entitled to every consideration. State debts to-day amount to approximately £600,000,000, and the revenue which they are obliged to raise has risen from £7,000,000 in 1915 to £23,000,000 at the present time. That is an indication of the effect which the war had upon them. Every effort should be made by all responsible bodies to bring about uniformity in taxation, but that object will not be achieved in the way that is proposed bv the Government. The States are not complaining of the inadequacy of the per capita payment; it is the Federal Government which is objecting to the continuance of the system, because the payment to the States is an ever -increasing one on acoount of the additions that are made from year to year to the ranks of their citizens.

Senator Andrew - What about Tasmania ?

Senator HOARE - Both Tasmania and Western Australia have been bribed by the Commonwealth Government.

Senator Payne - That remark ought to be withdrawn.

Senator HOARE - I shall not withdraw it unless I am compelled to do so, because I believe it to be true.

Senator Payne - It is unworthy of the honorable senator.

Senator Hoare - I do not think that it is. The Government intends to take £7,000,000 from the States, and then hold conferences with them to arrive at some method of adjusting the financial relations between them and the Commonwealth. But why have we not had these conferences already to try to come to some common understanding? If the States will not attend, why have not definite proposals been submitted to them? Why has not the Government said, " This is what we intend to submit to Parliament, and you will know what to expect " ? Every one is in the dark as to what the Government proposes to do, and seemingly the Government itself does not know what scheme will supplant the present arrangement. There ought to be nothing to hide, and if anybody ought to know what is intended it is Parliament. Perhaps the Government, not satisfied with the scheme it has in view, is endeavouring to find another more advantageous to the Commonwealth. It has been suggested by Senator Pearce that the Commonwealth might take over the whole or a portion of the State debts ; but 1 can see in that proposal no advantage over the present scheme. It would simply mean depriving the States of one payment, and giving them another. If, for instance, in lieu of the per capita payments we had to provide interest and sinking fund on £100,000.000 of the States' indebtedness, it would still mean the annual payment by the Commonwealth of £7,000.000. " If the Government is willing to assist the States annually by the payment of £7.000.000, why does it object to the continuance of the per capita grant, which does not absorb more than £7,000,000 a year?It is the duty of this Parliament to see that the States are treated fairly and honorably. The people who look to the Senate to safeguard the rights of the States hope that, for the time being at any rate, we will reject the Government's proposal. I, for one, am not prepared to sign my name to a blank cheque, and hand it to the Commonwealth Government.We ought to know what that cheque contains. It is useless for Senator McLachlan to say that Parliament can stop the payment of the cheque, because when later on it is presented for payment, as undoubtedly it will be if we pass this bill, we shall have no idea of the amount that will be drawn from the exchequers of the States. Our position now is that we are merely living in anticipation of something being done, and we may be considerably disappointed. I am hoping that at even this late hour the Senate will reconsider its vote of last night, and declare that in the interests of the States the bill should not be passed.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator means " in the interests of the State Premiers."

Senator HOARE - I am speaking of the interests of the people in the States and the Commonwealth. Yesterday the honorable senator interjected, " Surely the people of the States should be satisfied when we, as a Commonwealth, refuse to tax them." That may be true, but the actual position is that, while we tell the people of the States that we refuse to tax them, we also advise them that the State Governments must double-tax them in order to make good the shortage caused by the withdrawal of the per capita payment. I have not read in the policy speech of the Prime Minister any indication of an intention to abolish these payments ; and if, as Senator Pearce says, the Government had a mandate for the step it is now taking, it was a very secret one. At any rate, the public knew nothing about it. If the Government intended to submit a bill of this description to Parliament, it should have told the electors - that would have been an honest way of doing things - and the people would have known what they were voting on. But the Government kept its proposals secret. Apparently, it was afraid of the attitude the electors would take when they realized that it was proposed to abolish the per capita payments. The fairest course to follow now is to submit the whole question to the people, and let them say whether the per capita arrangement should or should not continue. Whether the voice of the people be for or against me, I accept it, but I am confident that if (his question were submitted to a referendum, therewould be an overwhelming majority for the continuance of the per capita payments or for the adoption of some other system of giving the States financial assistance equal to what they now receive. This Government neglected its opportunity as well as its duty at the last election, because had the matter been placed before the electors, then the verdict of the people would have been equal to a referendum.. Senator Chapman said that he remained true to the Government, but is he true to the party that sent him here. Has he consulted his electors? However, that is his own business; he must answer for his own actions. There have been two outstanding features of this debate - on the one hand the weak declaration of Senator Pearce that the Government could not tell us what it proposed to do, but simply asked Parliament to accept its word; on the other hand, the exceedingly strong point made by Senator Greene when he asked the Nationalists who are supporting the bill whether they were true to the party and the platform they signed on seeking election to this Parliament.

Suggest corrections