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Tuesday, 13 December 1927

Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (Honorary Minister) . - I move -

That the hill be now read a second time.

Though the measure is somewhat lengthy, its subject-matter does not call for a great deal of discussion, except in respect of one or two points. Its object is to clarify a number of provisions in the present law that have been the subject of contention between the department and taxpayers. It abolishes the objectionable retrospective assessments, and will give stability to assessments by establishing a valuation board and providing machinery for strengthening departmental administration. It also deals with certain other matters to which I shall refer in detail when the bill is in committee. I feel sure that the measure will commend itself to honorable senators. Possibly one of the greatest causes of irritation in the past has been the power under the principal act to make retrospective assessments. This it is proposed to abolish under this measure. Assessments are now to be made in respect of triennial periods, which is a provision that will commend itself to land-owners. Certain powers are also given to tile board to grant relief to persons deriving ' income from land used for primary production whose returns are restricted owing to drought or other adverse conditions. This has been sought for a considerable time, and will be much appreciated. Consideration has been given to the position of sporting clubs and bodies of persons whose lairds, when used primarily and principally for athletic sports or exercises other than horseracing, are now to be exempt. A subject in which some honorable senators may be interested is the elimination of a shareholder's interest in the unimproved value of land held by a limited company where it does not exceed £500. The departmental practice up to the present has been- to disregard the taxpayer's interest in such circumstances where it does not amount to more than £100. This amount is now to be increased to £500, as it has been found that the revenue received from this source does not justify the work involved in arriving at a taxpayer's actual interest. The shareholders in limited companies will be relieved to this extent, and the department will be saved a good deal of unprofitable work. The establishment of a valuation board to review and finally determine land values as between taxpayer and the department has been sought in many parts of Australia. It has been found that the Supreme Courts of the States and the High Court of Australia are not sufficiently familiar with the varying conditions which obtain all over Australia to enable them to deal with such a complex problem as the valution of land in a manner which is quite satisfactory, not from a legal, but from a practical viewpoint. The valuation board or boards will deal with land values iti different States and localities. When we remember that there are pastoral and farming lands, lands suitable for intense culture, as well as land suitable for vegetable and fruit-growing, it will readily be realized that one authority cannot have an intimate knowledge of all classes. The amendment proposed will, I am sure, meet with the approval of taxpayers, and assist in speeding up the work, of the courts. I do not wish honorable senators to infer that the tribunals to be established will take the place of the courts altogether, because questions of law will still be settled by a judge of a State court or of the High Court of Australia. The board will function only in ascertaining the value of land. There is also another matter which has given the Commissioner of Taxation some trouble and a good deal of anxiety and inconvenience in administering the department. At present the Commissioner of Taxation is constantly compelled to delegate certain powers to the Assistant Commssioner of Land Tax. This officer is now to be known as the Second Commissioner, and will be vested with the power of the Commissioner. This, the Commissioner hopes, will avoid many delays that now occur, and will enable him to function to the full. The Commissioner will not be tied to his office as at present, and will be able, therefore, to pay more frequent visits to the several States. The taxation machinery which in the past has been controlled by one person will now be driven by an additional hand, and the smoother working of the department will be facilitated. This will be very helpful to the taxpayers. The departmental definition of " parcels of land " has been in operation for seventeen years ; but it has now been found necessary to embody it in the act. This is being done under clause 7. There are various other more or less unimportant provisions, such, for instance, as fixing the hour in which a change of ownership shall be deemed to have taken place. This is provided for in clause 8. There are also amendments to improve the method of collecting taxes in connexion with which the legal provisions of the act have been clarified. The balance of the measure consists more or less of machinery clauses, of such a nature as to grant a measure of relief to the community. I commend the bill to the favorable consideration of the Senate.

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