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Wednesday, 19 May 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- It has seemed to me strange that at a time like this, when it is essential that the country should produce as much as it can, we should hear of large numbers of persons being out of employment. The acute industrial unrest which has existed in Australia during the past few years is responsible for the present state of things, and I think that the Government should at the earliest moment say what action it proposes to take for the amendment of our industrial legislation. It should be patent to all that we cannot continue as we are to-day. Our indus- trial laws have been found to be absolutely and wholly unworkable, and, to my mind, the Arbitration Court is responsible for the vindictiveness - I can find no other word characterizing the feeling which exists - between employers and employees. At the present time the feeling between those two sections, who, if we are going to prosper, must work in harmony, is very bitter. The amendment of our industrial legislation has been promised for a long time, and, to my mind, we can discuss no more important subject than proposals for arriving at a better understanding between employers and employees. Wo other matter is of such grave concern to the people of Australia at the present time.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member might say to "the people of the world."

Mr GREGORY - The nervous tension created by the war has had a lot to do with the industrial unrest that exists; but we have gone ahead of other countries in our industrial legislation, and have done many things that it would have been better to leave undone. I do not wish to raise a discussion about industrial reform now, because it could not do any good, but effort should be made to amend industrial legislation at the earliest possible moment.

Mr Austin Chapman - Is the honorable member prepared to assist me in regard to Canberra?

Mr GREGORY - No. I intend to speak about Canberra in a moment or two.

Mr Austin Chapman - I shall point out that we have no right to have a biased Chairman on the Public Works Committee inquiring into Federal Capital matters.

Mr GREGORY - The remark is grossly unfair. All who have studied my work on the Committee will acknowledge that I have done my best to secure for the information of Parliament clear and correct recommendations on the proposals referred to it for investigation.

Mr Austin Chapman - You admit that you are biased.

Mr GREGORY - I do not. For two years I fought in this Chamber - I am glad to say successfully - against the expenditure of between £2,500,000 and £3,000,000 on the establishment of an arsenal at Tuggeranong, which, as I have said, would be a magnificent site for a monastery, though I cannot understand how an engineer could select it for an arsenal. I am told that the wicked waste which the establishment of that arsenal would have involved has been prevented.

Mr Austin Chapman - If that is the opinion of the Chairman of the Public Works Committee he must be pretty biased.

Mr GREGORY - Let me add that after I became Chairman of the Committee reference was made to it of a proposal for the construction of a railway to the arsenal site, and the Committee reported in favour of the work. There was no bias there. If the arsenal was to be constructed the railway was essential.

Mr Austin Chapman - This is a terrible confession for the Chairman of the Committee to make.

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member has always gone out of. his way to promote the interests of the Federal Capital, and to induce Parliament to give earnest consideration to the subject, and he has been fairly successful in getting money spent there. But I resent his imputation that I am biased in regard to Canberra. I do not think that honorable members, generally, agree with him.

I again suggest that we should have some statement or promise from the Government in regard to the Tariff. The procedure here is somewhat different from that in the State Parliaments. There, when members make a request before items of the Estimates are passed, a short statement is made by the Premier, or some other Minister, who either promises or refuses to deal with certain matters; and I think we ought to have a promise that there will not be-undue delay in dealing with the Tariff. A new schedule has been introduced which imposes very high duties on many of the goods necessary in primary industries.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That new schedule is bringing in some revenue that I badly need.

Mr GREGORY - We ought to be told whether the present is a revenue or a Protective Tariff. However, I shall not discuss the matter further than to say that, at the earliest possible moment, the schedule should be submitted for our consideration.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Let me say at once that I think - indeed, I am almost certain - the Tariff will be amongst the first business when we meet again

Mr GREGORY - I am glad to hear that statement. However, I rose particularly to speak in regard to taxation.. We know that further taxation will be necessary; but the incidence of taxation is -decidedly and grossly unfair. When we heard the statements made to-day in regard to the drought in New South Wales and Queensland, we realized how disastrous the conditions of Australia are at the present time. Those men who, probably, are being ruined in their endeavours to find fodder may be receiving notices from the Income Tax Department demanding taxation on profits made the year before, and, it may be, 75 per cent, as war-time profits tax made the year before that. As soon as possible, the House should insist upon the appointment of a Finance Committee. It is a pity the Public- Accounts Committee does not deal with financial measures submitted to this House. Such measures should be submitted to a .Finance Committee, and the members- of it ought to be selected from' those who have had special financial training, and who should take evidence in regard to the incidence of taxation. Let- me cite cases that I have mentioned before to honorable members. Let us, for instance,, imagine two men who are- left £10,000 each; one has a love of the bush, and immediately on receipt of his money goes out into the Never-Never, and takes all the risks of drought, fire, and flood. He spends, his £10,000 in developing his property, and, possibly, borrows another £10,000' for the same purpose. Prior to the war, that man never made a sixpence of profit. I may say that I am citing special cases which have come under my notice. Every year prior to the war that, man showed' an absolute loss. In the first year of the war he showed a book profit, not a cash profit", of £1,200; and in the next year, with £20,000 invested, he showed a book profit of £4,800. In spite of this, however, every year prior to the war he had been losing from £500 to £800, and there was always a risk that the next year he might lose every penny through drought. This man was called upon to pay land and income tax, and £2,750 in war-time profits tax ; while his neighbour, who had probably been mak ing £15,000 a year in the same industry, but who had a pre-war standard to that, amount, was not called upon to pay sixpence. Now, let us take the case of the other man, with £10,000,. who declines to expose himself to. any risk or responsibility, but puts his money out on mortgage, and is sure of an income of anything up to £700 a year for life. In addition, such a. man may start as a commission agent or broker, and, whilst the pastoralist or grazier has been making £4,800 a year, this other man may have made £20,000 or £40,000 in commissions. Yet this latter man does not pay a penny in war-time profits tax, because he made his money with his brains. It is a. scandal that there should be such a measure on our statute-book, because, under its provisions a man who develops this country and produces wealth, may have to sell his property in order to pav taxation. Although, under our taxation measures, the Commissioner has power to give- concessions in case of drought or' heavy losses,, such, concessions are not made. However, I shall not go into details, for I shall have another opportunity of dealing with taxation matters. I may say, however, that- the. Government have not yet appointed a Board, as provided by our law, to which appeals cain be made in cases, where taxpayers are not satisfied with, the decisions of the Commissioner.

There is another taxation matter- to which I should like to refer. When we passed the Entertainments Tax Act, I am certain that honorable members thought it was for the purpose of making liable those who carried on amusements as a business. When I was travelling in the back country, some 300 miles from the city, in Western Australia, I had many complaints in regard to claims for payment of the amusement tax by fire brigades, churches, or soldiers' entertainments committees, on the ground that they had promoted entertainments for admission to which a .charge was made.

Mr Tudor - I do not think churcheshave to pay the tax, though they have to obtain permission to hold the entertainments.

Mr GREGORY - In one place I visited I found that the Catholic priest had been summoned for holding an entertainment without a permit, and notices had been sent out to the people, including Roads Boards, to the effect that they must not let their halls for entertainments until permits had been obtained. This seems an absurd law, for many places have only a mail a week, and it takes three or four days for letters to reach the authorities; yet at the same time those who do hold entertainments without permits are liable to a fine of £50.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - The Taxation Department has been taken down by fellows in the bush, who are not so guileless as the honorable member would make out.

Mr Poynton - A number of race meetings have been involved.

Mr GREGORY - If the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) was under the impression, when the Entertainments Tax Act was passed, that it applied to every little entertainment in the back country, he had a very different idea from that which I had. All these cases to which I am alluding show the absurdities of the administration, which is particularly stupid in the case of hamlets with a population of 100 or 150, who certainly cannot be accused of making large profits on the entertainments they promote. There is no necessity for the restrictions on people outback who do not promote amusements for profit; and I hope an amendment will be made in the Act restricting the application of the tax.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I find the Taxation Commissioner pretty liberal.

Mr GREGORY - Perhaps the honorable member goes to see the Taxation Commissioner f


Mr GREGORY - I do, not, because I do not regard it as part of my duty.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - My constituents send me -here to see .after their interests.

Mr GREGORY - I do not go to see the Taxation Commissioner, and I object to persons using political influence.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - It is not political influence.

Mr GREGORY - It is a class of influence I resent. The law should be the same for all persons, and not only for those able to get members to race round Departments on their behalf.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - If my constituents are dissatisfied, they send me a shilling wire, and I get them satisfaction.

Mr GREGORY - There should be one law for all; and my way is to see a Minister, and not officers of any Department, particularly the Taxation Department.

Mr Austin Chapman - Why should not a member interview a public servant if he wishes?

Mr GREGORY - On certain matters, yes; but not on matters of taxation. If the honorable member thinks it right to go behind the backs of Ministers in such cases, I do not agree with him. I now desire to refer to the expenditure of the Defence Department, which is increasing since the end of the war. I do not desire to cast any reflections, but it is essential for Parliament to come to an early decision in regard to our Defence policy, so that the Department may be able to carry on its work on definite lines. Large sums are being expended on the erection of buildings for the housing of material which is coming from the Old Country. Although the greater portion of. war equipment was purchased in the early stages of the war, I hope that the Government will insist as far as possible on no new purchases being made to increase the stores that are coming- in. These stores, I suppose, must be worth some millions of pounds, and the housing for them cannot cost less than £300,000.

Mr Bowden - What about the storage at Liverpool ?

Mr GREGORY - It could not be utilized for the purpose to which I am re- 'ferring. The Public Works Committee visited Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, and, in 'my opinion, it would not be possible to care for the equipment without the erection of the proposed buildings there. However that may be, the Government should do all it possibly can to reduce the quantity of goods being sent out, and to insist that no new material shall be manufactured. I believe it is' the intention of the Department to spend something lite £40,000 in building a laboratory. That will be in conjunction with the construction of an arsenal. I have always held that the Government should have control, as far as possible, of the manufacture of all its war material, and that everything should be of the very best quality. The Defence Department has always been an extravagant Department

Mr Austin Chapman - What has the Minister to say to that ?

Mr GREGORY - Ministers may be ill-advised. The Government, for example, spent a huge sum in the construction of an aerodrome at Point Cook.

Mr Austin Chapman - A pretty considerable sum of money was spent on certain public works in Western Australia, was it not?

Mr GREGORY - If the honorable member wants to make a burlesque of this debate, well and good.

Mr Austin Chapman - You are saving me the trouble.

Mr GREGORY - I do not think that would be at all possible. At any rate, I am not tied in my politics to the one little corner of Australia bounded by the Federal Capital site. The honorable member is so aggrieved at my criticism of various matters associated with Canberra, and with proposed expenditures in the Federal Territory, that he can do no other than endeavour to make the whole of this debate a burlesque. I was remarking that a big sum of money had been spent upon the construction of an aerodrome at Point Cook. Now, I understand the Defence Department is considering the purchase of land at Geelong for the construction of an aerodrome. Apparently, some one has blundered in having advised the outlay of such a large amount at Point Cook. If the Government is going to spend between £40,000 and £50,000 upon a laboratory in connexion with an arsenal the sooner this House is advised upon its policy in this matter, and in respect to the amount of money proposed to be expended, and concerning the site on which the laboratory is to be erected, the better.

Mr Bowden - The site was fixed in the Federal Territory.

Mr GREGORY - That is not so. The Tuggeranong site has been rejected. J' was altogether too stupid a proposition. I think I am safe in saying that it has been definitely decided that the construction of an arsenal .there is not to be proceeded with. In various directions we have witnessed a great deal of useless expenditure on the part of the Defence Department, and it should be for this House to say whether the Defence Department shall have exemption from the investigation of its proposed works by thePublic Works Committee.

Another matter to which I desire to refer has regard to the policy of the United States Government in the direction of assisting production. I believe that we shall have a considerable influx of population from the Old Country in the near future. We should be able to favorably settle very large numbers. We do not want them brought into the cities, however, but to be placed successfully on the land. At the beginning of the entry of the United States into the war, the Government of that Republic made a grant of some £7,000,000 annually for the construction of roads through the various States. It did so on the assumption that the building of good roads would tend to increase settlement, and to decrease the cost of living. The Commonwealth Government might well consider the matter of granting assistance in the construction ' of main roads through the various Australian States. In future, much greater prosperity will be due to the construction of good roads than to the building of railways. With the aid of the oil tractor, men on the land will be able to go out further from railway communication than has been possible hitherto. The policy of the Government of the United States of America has specially appealed to me. I know, of course, that this is not the time to look to the Commonwealth Treasury for the disbursement of large sums of money. Yet this matter of State-wide road construction is one which might well be considered if the Government is really anxious to establish a greater population in country districts.

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