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Wednesday, 26 October 1910

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - In the main I agree with Senator Gardiner that the great bulk of the lands of Australia which have been alienated have received an increment, and that their owners have hitherto enjoyed that communitycreated value without being taxed upon it. Consequently, they have nothing of which to complain. I confess that at one time I believed in the proposal to exempt from taxation the amounts which were originally paid to the Crown as purchase money for these lands. But upon reconsideration I have come to recognise that there is a kind of academic fairness about that proposal which does not work out in practice. As the Leader of the Opposition himself admits, we have a perfect right to tax land as such. There is no obligation upon us to tax other forms of property.

Senator Walker - This is a class tax.

Senator RAE - Then how about the class tax to which we have submitted by paying duty upon every bit of tobacco that we smoke ?

Senator Walker - That tax is paid by every class.

Senator RAE - Customs taxation hits a man not in proportion to his income, but in proportion to his necessities.

The CHAIRMAN - I think that the honorable senator's remarks would have been more appropriate upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill.

Senator RAE - All this talk about a class tax comes with very bad grace from those who by their votes are supporting the class which gains most from the existing condition of affairs, and which escapes contributing its fair proportion to the revenue. I wish now to refer briefly to a matter which 1 know my South Australian friends will pardon me for mentioning. In the records of the New South Wales Parliament - I read it there eighteen or nineteen years ago - is a despatch which Wakefield forwarded to the Imperial authorities, and in which he stated that to make the South Australian settlement a success it was necessary to have dear land, so as to insure cheap labour. He argued that if the land were cheap every person who came to the country, instead of remaining in the service of his employers, would take up land for himself, and that, consequently, it was necessary to put a big upset price upon it, so that only the wealthy would be able to purchase it. This is the gentleman whom Senator Millen has described as a philanthropist. Though the despatch in question evidences a queer form of philanthropy, it contains the utterances of an honest, outspoken Tory - utterances to which none of the Tories of the present day have the pluck to give expression. They conceal all their opposition to every democratic proposal under the guise of Liberalism. A celebrated character in history once exclaimed, " What deeds are done in thy name, 0 Liberty !" and similarly we may exclaim, " What deeds are done under the lovely name of Liberalism !" I wish now to refer to a matter which is not one of sentiment, but of fact. Some time ago a deputation waited upon the Prime Minister to urge that this tax would oppressively affect the land-owners of Riverina. The members of that deputation presented figures, which were published in the metropolitan newspapers, showing how the tax would operate. They pointed out that they had given a certain price for their land - £i per acre in the majority of cases - and that in many instances it was not returning them more than 3 £ per cent, upon the purchase price. They declared that the tax would operate so oppressively that in some cases it would eat up nearly all the income which they derive from their land, and that in others it would eat up the whole of that income and leave a deficit. They asked for relief upon the ground that the Crown had already receive^ full value for their land. I do not know whether Senator Millen is widely acquainted with the Riverina lands- I know that he has been over them. But I wish to point out that most of the land which these men occupy is well fitted for agriculture.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator say that of the Balranald estate?

Senator RAE - I say that from Hay upwards there is a huge belt of country lying between the Murrumbidgee, the Edwards, and the Murray which a few owners have monopolized, and that there are thousands of settlers who would take up that land if the opportunity presented itself. It is mighty bad management on the part of the present owners if they can make out of it only 2 J per cent, upon their original outlay. There is no justification for a remission of the tax on the ground that it will swallow up the whole of their income from those lands. Their claim will not hold water for a moment, at any rate in the great majority of cases. I am quite prepared to accept Senator Millen's statement that faulty legislation in New South Wales has forced men to buy land which they would have been very glad to have held upon rental. I admit that an injustice has been done owing to the operation of bad land laws which were enacted by the Parliament of New South Wales, although Senator Millen's friends were responsible for those laws. If there are persons who are labouring under an injustice because they were compelled to buy lands which otherwise they would have rented, the duty of the New South Wales Government is to grant them compensation. It would be arrant folly for this Parliament to decline to sanction the imposition of a tax which is just in its incidence merely because a few cases of hardship will arise consequent upon bad legislation on the part of New South Wales. I repeat that if certain persons have suffered injustice by reason of that legislation, New South Wales should compensate them for the injury which has been inflicted upon them. But that is no reason why we should reject a tax which should have been agreed to long ago in the interests of the whole community. I repeat that, upon the face of it, it seems fair to say that nobody should be taxed on the purchase money paid for land to the Crown.

Senator Guthrie - Who built the railways and roads.

Senator RAE - Exactly. As Senator Guthrie has pointed out, these land-owners have already had returned to them far more than they ever paid to the Crown, in addition to which they have enjoyed the communitycreated values attaching to their lands for a generation or two without paying any taxation whatever. So that if we were animated by class hatred - as has been suggested by honorable senators opposite - we would enact retrospective legislation. The land-owners may thank their stars that a party is in power which is animated by a spirit of justice and fair play, and which consequently allows them to escape. If Senator Walker's proposal were adopted I should submit a further amendment for. the purpose of dealing with the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of acres in New South Wales and the other States which have been dummied. Their owners committed forgery, perjury - indeed, almost every crime in the calendar - in order to dummy those lands. I admit that a great deal of this was directly due to bad legislation, which sometimes forced men to purchase land in order to prevent others from obtaining it. Consequently, they were frequently obliged to mortgage themselves up to the neck-

Senator Millen - It was " catch as catch can."

Senator RAE - It was, and the principle is a bad one. But Senator Millen must admit that if we are going to have an inquiry into what was originally paid to the Crown in the form of purchase money, we ought also to have an inquiry into all the dealings of our land-owners. If we did that we should discover that the criminals who did not get into gaol outnumbered those who did by ten to one.

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