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Wednesday, 26 October 1910

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I should not have spoken on this matter if Senator Sayers had not repeated the old wheeze about the Caucus. If there was anything made clear during the last elections, it was the strong objection the people of Australia have to the absentee. We are not in this matter obeying the instructions of the Caucus, and it would be just as true for me to say that honorable senators opposite are carrying out the instructions of the Employers' Federation.

Senator Pearce - Perhaps this amendment has been moved under their instructions.

Senator DE LARGIE - I might just as reasonably suggest that it has been moved under instructions from the Employers' Federation or the National Association, whose instructions honorable senators opposite are here to carry out. We know the power behind the present Opposition. That was clearly shewn in the last Parliament, when the Employers' Federation brought about the Fusion, and created a party to fight for capitalists and big landowners. The people of Australia have determined to make the absentee pay more towards the expenses of government than he has done in the past.

Senator Millen - That is no reason for harassing a man who is a genuine resident of Australia.

Senator DE LARGIE - We are not making things more difficult than is necessary for the genuine residents of Australia, hut we are taking good care that it shall not be easy for the absentee to escape just taxation, as he has done too often in the past. The attitude which the Opposition have taken up towards this clause has reminded me of the man who objected to " an absentee tax, or any other kind ot tax, on tea." No doubt the real objection of the Opposition is to a tax of any kind. The most objectionable person with whom we have to deal is the absentee.

Senator Walker - Is he any worse than the man who is in gaol?

Senator DE LARGIE - We are not talking about criminals at all. I say that the Government would be foolish if they permitted the Bill to be mutilated by the Opposition in such a way as to enable so objectionable a person as the absentee to escape just taxation.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [4.5].- I quite agree that the Government would be foolish to allow the Bill to be mutilated in such a way as to permit the absentee to escape taxation. But the Opposition have no desire to amend the Bill in order that absentees may escape taxation. They wish to amend it in such a way as to prevent hardship being unnecessarily inflicted on bond fide residents of Australia.

Senator McGregor - We are not dealing with residents, but with absentees.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD.- We have first of all a definition of an absentee, and then paragraphs including in the definition any person who is absent from the Commonwealth at the time when the ownership of his land, for the purposes of the Act, is determined, and also any person who is absent for more than one-half of the twelve months for which the tax is levied, unless they satisfy the Commissioner that they are residents of Australia. It has been pointed out that if a man were absent for a period of six months continuously, it would not be unreasonable to tax him as an absentee if he could not satisfy the Commissioner that he was a resident of Australia.

Senator McGregor - He might be an absentee, and be here every three months.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Such a case would be covered by the first portion of the definition. But the honorable senator must know that no man would come to Australia every three months in order to protect himself against the absentee tax.

Senator McGregor - He could only do it for the first year.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Under this definition, if a man is absent from the Commonwealth for a certain period he will be regarded as an absentee, and yet honorable senators opposite must recognise that the first part of the definition covers the case of those who are really absentees. Senator Long has said that it would be an easy matter to satisfy the Commissioner that a man was a resident of Australia, but let me remind him that the Commissioner will not know a tithe of the residents of the Commonwealth. A man is represented as being an absentee, and the Commissioner does not know him from Adam, and has never heard of him before. He will say, " You must satisfy me that you have your home in Australia." It will not be enough for the man to say, "I am not an absentee; I am a resident of Australia." He will have to satisfy the Commissioner at least by a declaration, which will probably have to be corroborated by some person occupying a responsible position, such as a magistrate or a notary.

Senator Long - He must satisfy the Commissioner or his deputy.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It would be just as difficult to satisfy the deputy. After all, the Commissioner might disregard the evidence submitted, and ask for more; and if the Com missioner is not satisfied there is no appeal, and the taxpayer must pay up on the absentee scale.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator is putting it the wrong way about. What the taxpayer has to prove is that he is not an absentee.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am showing what he may have to do to prove that he is not an absentee. This will be but an added annoyance to the many annoyances that are always associated with taxation. I remind honorable senators also that it will add to the work of administration, and so far as I can see for no good purpose. One would not be justified in saying that the purpose is to harass and annoy taxpayers, because I suppose that is not the intention. I recognise that the Government wish to make sure that there shall be no leakage, and I am not supporting the amendment in order to enable people to escape taxation. I think it would in no way impair the efficiency of the clause, but it would prevent unnecessary irritation and annoyance to Commonwealth taxpayers.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [4.10]. - I think it well to point out that this provision would impose an annual infliction upon the unfortunate taxpayer. It is not as if an inquiry were proposed when the system comes first into operation. A taxpayer would under this provision be required annually to satisfy the Commissioner that he is a resident of Australia. Every commercial traveller who happened before 30th June in each year---

Senator de Largie - This is not a Bill to tax commercial travellers.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Does the honorable senator think that a commercial traveller might not be a land-owner, or is it proposed that commercial travellers shall be forbidden to be land-owners ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Or that they should escape taxation?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - To carry out Senator de Largie's idea it might be well to add a proviso that no commercial traveller shall be deemed to be an absentee. Assuming, as a matter of grace and favour, that he is permitted to own a bit of land, I do not suppose the Government believe that he should be penalized, brought under the ban of an absentee and taxed more than a resident, and should be obliged once every year - personally, I think, but whether by representative or personally is immaterial - to appear before the Commissioner and undergo an examination as to the time he was absent from Australia, and satisfy the Commissioner that he still wishes to have the honour of being considered a resident of Australia. The thing seems preposterous. The object of the clause is to declare that every one who is not a resident of Australia is an absentee, and to throw upon the persons covered by paragraphs a and b the onus of satisfying the Commissioner that they are residents of Australia. If this were to be done once and for all it would not be so bad, but under the Bill as it stands it will have to be done every year. The simple remedy is to insert the word " continuously." It is not altogether reasonable to provide that a person who has been continuously absent for six months shall be regarded as an absentee. But it is less reasonable to say that a man who may be absent for a week or two at a time, but for six months in all, out of a period of twelve months, shall be regarded as an absentee unless he satisfies the Commissioner that he is a resident of Australia. As honorable senators on this side have said, it will not be a mere matter of form to satisfy the Commissioner, who will have judicial functions to perform. If we insert the word " continuously " we shall have a definite period of absence imposing upon the land-owner the obligation to satisfy the Commissioner that he is a resident of Australia. Unless some such amendment is made in the clause, an amending Bill will have to be introduced before very long, because I hope the selfrespect of people who must be absent occasionally from the Commonwealth will be so much shocked by this provision that it will lead to a kind of revolt. A system of taxation which in itself is oppressive and inquisitorial should not be made more so, and the convenience of the taxpayer should be considered more than it appears to be by this provision.

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