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Tuesday, 21 August 1906

Mr WILKS (Dalley) .- The Treasurer has been complimented upon having brought in the rosiest Budget that has ever been, presented in Australia. It is all very well to say that the Budget is a marvel of accountancy, but it is not very rosy when regarded from the stand-point of the general public. Fortunately, we are on the up-grade, and we can congratulate ourselves upon tlie signs of progress which are to be found amongst us. Australia must be a great country when it can afford to maintain so many Parliaments as it does. Not a single honorable member during the course of this debate has touched upon' the economy which we were assured would be practised under Federation. Instead of savings having been made in the cost of government, the expenditure1 in this direction has been vastly augmented'. When the honorable member for Parramatta men:tioned that fact the other day the Treasurer brushed it aside with the remark that the difference was due to an increase in the cost of certain services. I maintain that there has been an all-round increase so far as the governmental machine is concerned, and' I am not at all surprised that the States are closely watching the actions of this Parliament. The more necessitous States naturally feel the financial pinch more acutely than do the other States of the Union. This evening the honorable member for Grey availed himself of the opportunity presented by the Budget debate to deal with the question of land reform. I have no desire to be at all personal, but there are some honorable members who use the word " finance " very frequently during their speeches as if it had a magic ring about it. If they can only succeed in introducing the word " national " before it, they appear to think that other honorable members should be prepared to accept their dictum. I am not willing to do anything of the sort. In the course of his Budget, the Treasurer presented certain proposals in reference to taking over the States debts. I believe that the Government will father those proposals in due time, but so far they have not done so.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member was evidently not present when I delivered my Budget.

Mr WILKS - Then I understand that the Government do accept the scheme of the Treasurer?

Sir John Forrest - Certainly.

Mr WILKS - Then I am justified in asking when they intend to submit those proposals to the House in a concrete form ? In my judgment no honorable member has presented a scheme for the transfer of the States debts which would be nearly as satisfactory as the Braddon section with some modification would prove. In this connexion my remarks have special reference to Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.


Mr WILKS - In New South Wales and Victoria old-age pensions systems already exist. The only States in which similar provision has not been made are Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. With a modification of the Braddon section, I claim that their particular circumstances might be fully provided for. I cannot understand what is to be gained from the Commonwealth taking over the States debts. In the ordinary walks of life I have never discovered an individual who was anxious to shoulder another's obligations. Certainly I have never found anybody who was eager to relieve me of mine.

Mr Thomas - Can the honorable member understand the States objecting to the transfer of their debts?

Mr WILKS - I cannot. When I am assured that the States debts can be converted by the Commonwealth at a profit, I am asked to believe that the brokers in London are so blind to the conditions of Australia that they will permit that to be done without receiving any consideration. I cannot believe that they will surrender their stocks merely for the purpose of pleasing the Treasurer.

Sir John Forrest - We do not propose to ask them to convert their stocks until they are nearing maturity.

Mr WILKS - Exactly. The honorable member for Mernda built his entire scheme upon the assumption that the Commonwealth would be able to borrow at 3 per cent, when these loans matured. But that is all a matter of pure speculation. At the same time, I cannot see why we require a High Commissioner in London if he is not to be vested with power to deal with the debts in Australia. The more honoured and capable he is, the more desirous will he be of obtaining powers the exercise of which are essential to his high office. His most important function will be to deal with the finances of Australia. But I rose chiefly for the purpose of referring to the Labour Party. The le? der of that party, in the course of his remarks upon the Budget, declared that a Federal progressive land tax was not intended to raise revenue, but was designed to burst up large estates, so that the landless Door might be afforded an opportunity of coming into their heritage. I am one of those who believe that the land question is at the root of the industrial troubles of Australia, but I am not prepared to accept a scheme of that character as a solution of the problem. The Labour Party propose to exempt all lands the unimproved value of which is less than £5,000. It seems 'to me that their proposal is merely a revival of the old scheme in reference to land values taxation, with evils which did not attach to it when its adoption was advocated in New South Wales. Upon estates the unimproved value of which is more than £.5,000, and less than ,£10,000, a tax of id. in the £1 is to be levied. Thus 8s. 4d. would have to be paid upon an estate the unimproved value of which was £10,000. The honorable member for Bland wishes the country to believe that the lucky holder of such an estate would relinquish his holding rather than pay that amount.

Mr Brown - The honorable member's leader says that our proposal amounts to confiscation.

Mr WILKS - The leader of the Labour Party affirms that the effect of the operation of such a tax would be to burst up large estates. This afternoon the honorable member for Canobolas raised a pitiful wail on behalf of the landless poor of New South Wales.. I am endeavouring to show the absurdity of the idea that an annual tax of £10 8s. 4d. would compel the holder of £10,000 worth of unimproved land values to sacrifice his holding.

Mr Thomas - The honorable member does not think that that is confiscation?

Mr WILKS - I do not. The Labour Party themselves admit that very little revenue will be derived from such a tax. In his Budget speech the Treasurer entirely ignored the subject of a Federal progressive land tax.

Mr Mcwilliams - He does not agree with it.

Mr WILKS - No ; but the Prime Minister, since the Budget speech was delivered, has intimated that He favours such a tax. He recited his own action in the Victorian Parliament in support of it.

Sir John Forrest - I Have never read anything of such a statement.

Mr WILKS - I would not wittingly make a statement which was not correct. I repeat that the Prime Minister Kas declared himself in favour of a progressive land tax.

Sir John Forrest - When?

Mr WILKS - Quite recently. The Labour Party have put before the country a proposal to levy a tax upon improved land values for Federal purposes.

Mr Hutchison - The honorable member is in favour of that?

Mr WILKS - Does the honorable mem' ber wish the public to believe that a man holding £10,000 worth of unimproved land values would have his estate burst up if he were required to pay an annual tax amounting to £10 8s. 4d. ?

Mr Hutchison - In South Australia the verv fact of an increased land tax being proposed caused some holders to part with their, lands.

Mr WILKS - If the honorable member were the lucky owner of an estate the unimproved value of which was £10,000, would he burst it up rather than pay a tax* of £10 per annum?

Mr Hutchison - The honorable member is referring only to that part of the tax which is designed to provide for oldage pensions.

Mr WILKS - In the case of estates having, an unimproved value of £60,000, it' is proposed that a tax equal to 3d. in the £1 should be imposed.

Mr Reid - That, would be equal to 5s. in the , £1 on the annual income.

Mr WILKS - On an estate' having an unimproved value of £60.000 the tax would amount to £572 8s. 4d. per annum.

Mr Fisher - The statement as to the tax being equal to 3d. in the £1 is not accurate.

Mr WILKS - I am prepared to back my own figures, and should like the leader of the Labour Party to say whether this tax is proposed for revenue or for reform.

Mr Watson - I have answered that question times out of number.

Mr WILKS -Would the owner of an estate having an unimproved value of £60,000 burst it up rather than pay an annual tax of £572 ?

Mr Watson - Will the honorable member explain our proposals to the farmers' unions ?

Mr WILKS - Yes; I could do so far better than the honorable member could. He has changed his opinions with regard to this question on two or three different occasions. In the first place he favoured a substantial exemption ; then he considered that there should be no exemption ; and he now comes forward with a proposal that all estates, the unimproved value of which is £5,000, and under, shall be exempt.

Mr Watson - When did I change my views? The honorable member is romancing.

Mr Reid - But the present scheme proposes a £5,000 exemption.

Mr Watson - That is so.

Mr WILKS - I do not own even a sheet of bark, whereas most of the members of the Labour Party are fortunate enough to be landed proprietors. While they speak on behalf of many of the squatters of the community, I am putting forward a plea on behalf of the landless poor. I fail to see how such a tax as is proposed would lead to the breaking up of large estates.

Mr Watson - Does the honorable member suggest a more drastic tax?

Mr WILKS - If it wore a tax proposed to be imposed by a State Parliament, I certainly should. I should say at once that all exemptions should be abolished. The honorable member for Bland is aware that, as a member of the State Parliament of New South Wales, I was always opposed to exemptions of any kind. Land taxation is within the control of the States, and it would appear that the Labour Party are proposing a Federal land tax as a short cut to unification. They say that the States Parliaments will not pass a sound, progressive land tax.

Mr Thomas - The right honorable member for East Sydney, on the occasion of his great Sydney speech, promised to introduce direct taxation proposals in the Federal Parliament.

Mr Reid - Never mind what he said.

Mr WILKS - I could understand such a proposal on the part of a State Government, but I feel satisfied that the States Parliaments will resist the imposition of such a tax bv the Federal Legislature. If the public of Australia considered that this was an attempt to secure unification, the proposed tax would certainly not meet with the approval' which the Labour Party anticipate. In New South Wales, we already have a land tax and a municipal tax, and we shall also have a shire tax.

Mr Brown - The shire tax is handed over to the shire councils.

Mr WILKS - I regard the progressive land tax proposed bv the Labour Party as being unlikely to effect the purpose for which it is intended. It will be revenue producing, and certainly will not lead to the bursting up of large estates. The party have carefully provided for the exemption of all estates having an unimproved value of£5,000 and under, feeling sure, no doubt, that as the result of this, they will add largely to their voting strength. They believe, also, that the scheme will secure the support of thousands who do not own any land. As a- matter of fact, there is not a block of land in my electorate to which the exemption would not apply, so that if I chose, I might safely pose as an advocate of the tax. But I am prepared to accept the responsibility of refusing to follow the Labour Partv proposal.

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member complain that we do not propose to tax land in his electorate?

Mr WILKS - The honorable member will admit that it is something in the nature of a novelty to find an honorable member resisting a tax which will net affect his own electorate. No one knows better than I do what could be said in favour of such taxation by a candidate who was addressing those who would not be affected by it; and no one knows better than I do that this proposed tax is a sham and a piece of political hypocrisy.

Mr Hutchison - One of the biggest of the land monopolies exists in my electorate. How would the honorable member deal with it?

Mr WILKS - If the proposal were introduced in the State Parliament of New South Wales, no one would more strongly support it than I should do. I have no desire to prolong my remarks. The present debate has been availed of by some honorable members to make policy speeches, and I felt that the opportunity to discuss the land taxation proposals of the. Labour Party was an opportune one. The honorable Treasurer has been congratulated upon his Budget statement, but I find in it nothing which will be gratifying to the public. It contains no promise of reduced taxation. On the contrary, it intimates that increased' services and a consequent increase of expenditure must be provided for. If the expenditure of the Federation continues to increase, it will cause the electors of Australia to feel more convinced than ever that we have too many Governors, too many Governments, and too many Parliaments.

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