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Wednesday, 26 October 1910

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - For the life of me, I cannot see that Senator Chataway 's amendment would improve the Bill. If it were carried, persons who were away from Australia for six months continuously would still have to satisfy the Commissioner that they were not absentees. Of course, I do not want to see any citizen of Australia put to inconvenience by the Bill. We are not legislating to inconvenience people, but simply to give effect to a principle which the people are desirous to have carried out. The difference between the clause as it stands and as it would read if the amendment were made is not of sufficient importance to justify a division.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [2.59]. - I think that Senator Gardiner hit the right nail on the head when he said that we do not legislate to inconvenience people. We all assent to that. The second reading of this Bill having been carried, we wish to assist in removing any possibility of inconvenience. When I was speaking last week, I stated emphatically that I am in favour of taxing absentees - that is, absentees of a particular kind, whom I then attempted to define; namely, persons who have lived in Australia, and who have made their means here, and have enjoyed the benefits of the prosperity generally enjoyed in Australia, and who practically desert the country which has been so good to them.

Senator Needham - Would not the honorable senator tax an absentee who has never seen Australia?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I am not dealing with that just now. I have described the kind of absentee I should do anything in my power to get at. Men of that character should not be assisted, but should, I think, be made to pay for their dereliction of duty as Australian citizens. There is the other class of socalled absentees, comprising persons who have never been here, and, it may be, corporate bodies that have lent money to Governments or individuals in Australia, which has been utilized in promoting the prosperity of the country. The first part of the definition covers every one who does not reside in Australia. I do not deal with that, because I consider that in agreeing to the second reading of the Bill we affirmed the principle proposed by the Government of applying a different scale of taxation to those who have never been here before, but who are not absentees in the sense in which I use the term. The first part of the definition is clear and general, and it might apply to Australians who are not residing in Australia or in Territories under the control of the Commonwealth at the time the ownership of the land and the incidence of the tax are ascertained. But to make quite sure the draftsman, acting upon the instructions of the Government, included two other definitions to cover those who might try to escape taxation on the scale applied to absentees by claiming that they resided in Australia, although they happened for a time to be away from the Commonwealth. Paragraph a includes a person who - is absent from Australia and such Territories at the time when Hie ownership of his land for Hie; purposes of this Act is determined.

I think that is rather a hard provision, because the person might be away from Australia only on a short trip at the time the ownership of the land was ascertained. That should be obvious on the face of the papers, which would show that they were made out by an attorney or representative, and is a clearly ascertainable condition of things. Then we come to paragraph b of the definition, which suggests a condition of things which is not so clearly ascertainable, and the amendment suggested by Senator Chataway would meet the convenience of owners of land who will be taxed under this scheme, whilst it would in no way derogate from the effect of this definition. As it stands, paragraph b includes a person who - has been absent from Australia and such Territories during more than half of the period of twelve months immediately preceding that date.

The reference is to the date at -which the ownership of the land is determined. I direct the attention of Senator Gardiner to the fact that this would be covered by paragraph a if the absence were at the time at which the date of the ownership of the land is determined. But paragraph b is not intended to refer to the same kind of absence as that covered by paragraph a. The absence covered by paragraph b might be made up of odd periods of absence during the twelve months, amounting in all to an absence of six months. In such a case the land-owner would be liable to taxation as an absentee under this Bill, unless he went before the Commissioner, and satisfied him that he was a resident of Australia. There is no disability upon a man who is a resident of Australia, and may be occasionally absent from the Commonwealth, but in the cases covered by paragraphs a and b, there is thrown upon the land-owner die obligation of satisfying the Commissioner that he is a resident of Australia. I suspect from the wording of the Bill that the land-owner would be required to personally satisfy the Commissioner. If we provided that the absence should be a continuous absence of six months, it would be fair to put upon the land-owner the obligation of satisfying the Commissioner that he is still a resident of Australia, but if the six months may be computed by adding odd days or months of absence during a period of twelve months, we might inflict hardship upon a taxpayer, which, I think, we should all desire to relieve him of.

Senator Rae - The average man would never think of counting odd days of absence. He would simply say that he had not been absent six months.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - If we provide that the absenteeship shall consist of continuous absence for six months, it will not be unreasonable to ask that the land-owner shall satisfy the Commissioner that he is still a resident of Australia. What that would mean would be that prima facie any man who had been continuously absent from the Commonwealth for six months was an absentee. But if a man travelling in connexion with a commercial business in New Zealand or some other place outside of Australia was away for a month or two at a time, why should (ve throw upon him the inconvenience of going before the Commissioner to satisfy him that he was a resident of Australia?

Senator Gardiner - Why should we do so in the case of an absence for six months continuously if he was away on genuine business?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think that should be considered also, but that would not be as reasonable as the case to which I have referred.

Senator Millen - We should not refuse to relieve one man because we cannot relieve two.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - It is more reasonable to ask that a man who has been away from Australia for six months continuously should satisfy the Commissioner that he is still a resident of Australia than to ask that a man who is away occasionally for a month or two at a time should be required to do so. The presumption in the first case would be that the man had an intention to change his domicile, whilst that would not be a reasonable assumption in the second case. I suggest to the Vice-President of the Executive Council that, in all the circumstances, he might very well agree to accept the amendment.

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