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Wednesday, 26 October 1910

Senator McGREGOR (South AustraliaVice President of the Executive Council) . - I admire greatly the persistence of honorable senators opposite on matters which are of very little consequence.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Then why not give way?

Senator McGREGOR - Because I do not see why honorable senators should on the spur of the moment move amendments which they ought to have considered during the last four or five days and circulated in print. The first definition in this clause describes an absentee as a person who resides out of Australia, and then proceeds to indicate the period when absenteeism begins. lt includes individuals who own land values in Australia and have never been within its borders, and also those who have been resident in Australia for years, probably for half a lifetime, but who, having amassed wealth, have come to the conclusion that in the interest of the aristo- cratic upbringing of their children it would be better for them to reside in Paris, London, Glasgow, or Edinburgh.

Senator Chataway - Or in New Zealand.

Senator MCGREGOR - Or in New Zealand, or, for that matter, in Japan, China, or Java. Having come to that decision, these persons remove their families and their removable effects, and so sever their connexion with Australia except as regards the land values which they own here. I have stated several times that therein lies the convenience of fixing a period which will denote when absenteeism commences. A man who had been away from Australia for only three months out of a year might be an absentee, because he had shifted everything and taken up his residence elsewhere. But the Bill in effect says, " We shall not make you an absentee until within the twelve months prior to the time ot proving the ownership - within the financial year - you have been absent for six months," that is for half of the period. Under the amendment, however, a man who owned ^100,000 worth of land values might become an absentee, but evade taxation by not being continuously absent for the six months. He would incur some expense, but the saving of the extra penny would amount to between .£400 and ,£500. Would it not pay a man to slip over from, say, Ceylon at the end of five months, stop here for a few days, and then go away, if in that one year he could save £200 or £300, and so defeat the real intention of the Act ?

Senator Millen - That would not save him.

Senator McGREGOR - I think that when it is clearly defined that an absentee is a person who has not resided in Australia for one-half of the period of twelve months, the Bill is as liberal as it ought to be. Although the amendment seems very inconsequential, still it might have the far-reaching effect which I have suggested. There would be a danger, no matter how small it might be, of evasions, and for these reasons I do not think it advisable to accept the amendment.

Senator CHATAWAY(Queensland) {3.24]. - I did not give printed notice of the amendment, because I thought that it was purely a verbal alteration, which would be taken up and moved by the Minister himself the moment it was mentioned.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - There is no obligation to submit amendments in print.

Senator CHATAWAY - No. If I had thought that the Minister would have taken the suggestion so seriously, and quoted so many foreign countries to defeat it, probably I should have given him notice of my intention "to move it. The Commonwealth Franchise Act provides that only a person who has lived in Australia continuously for six months is entitled to the suffrage.

Senator McGregor - Yes; but that is a different thing altogether.

Senator CHATAWAY - Unless a man has lived in the Commonwealth for six months continuously we do not allow him to have a vote; but in this measure we say to a man, " If you go out of Australia for three months twice during a year, we shall tax you as an absentee." I suggest that the Minister should try to bring the Bill into reasonable accord with the Franchise Act in that regard, and tax a man as an absentee if he has been absent for six months continuously within the year. My amendment is perfectly reasonable and fair. The persons who will be mostly injured by the method in which the Commissioner may interpret the law will be commercial travellers who work be.tween Australia and New Zealand. It is of no use to tell us that the Commissioner will be a wise man, and all that sort, of thing.

Senator McGregor - We shall take care that he is.

Senator CHATAWAY - Why should we throw upon the Commissioner the obligation of interpreting an Act of Parliament, and in a way which is not laid down? I again direct attention to the fact that the wording of the clause is not to the effect that an absentee is a person who has been absent " from Australia and such Territories " during the six months immediately preceding the date when he has to hand in an assessment of his land, but during half of the period of twelve months.

Senator McGregor - No.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am reading from the clause, and if the Minister wants to explain that it means something else, I ask him to move the amendment. What attracted my attention was that the words " six months " were not used, as in the Franchise Act, but the words " half of the period of twelve months," which clearly means that you' can add up the periods for which a man is absent, and if they come to .six months and a week, he may be proved to be an absentee. Let me illustrate how I think the provision is likely to work out in actual practice. Suppose that I am a commercial traveller who has to go over to New Zealand, say, every two months. Before 1 leave Australia it will be necessary for me, on each occasion, to drop a line to the Commissioner, explaining that I am about to go over to the Dominion on a trip.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator knows that that will not be necessary.

Senator CHATAWAY - I know something about direct taxes, and I find that Commissioners, however much we may trust them, are always to be found on the side of the revenue, and never on the side of the taxpayer. I suggest to my honorable friend that he should not treat this amendment in a hostile fashion, but try to realize that by accepting it he will bring the measure into consonance with measures which we have passed, because what the Government mean is continuous absence for six months. There is nobody in the Chamber, I venture to say, who does not recognise that six months' absence under this clause means continuous absence, and not several temporary absences. Therefore, I ask the Government to consider whether they cannot introduce the word "continuously."

Senator McGregor - A man might be an absentee, and he might be here for three months at one time and three months at another time out of every year.

Senator CHATAWAY - If we are to clearly understand that the Government intend the absence referred to in the clause to be an accumulation of absences, I can understand them opposing the amendment. My impression was that the absence from Australia was intended to be a continuous absence for six months. If, on the other hand, they mean an absence of six months, all I can say is that I regret that they cannot accept the amendment.

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