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Tuesday, 22 November 1938

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- The enthusiasm with which certain classes of people applaud a proposal for pouring out unlimited millions for the purpose of defence against an imaginary foe is equalled only in a kind of inverse ratio - I do not know whether you could have equality on that basis-

Mr Casey - It would be a mathematical difficulty.

Mr BRENNAN - Yes, as the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) says, it would be a mathematical difficulty, but, at all events, it is only equalled, speaking in a purely metaphorical sense, by the frigidity with which they regard any proposal for raising the necessary moneys. Consequently, we naturally expect that, when the Treasurer comes down with a proposal for a very moderate increase of the rate of land tax, it will be received coolly and in a deprecating spirit by those -who stand for the interest of the large land-owners in Australia.. Actually, the tax upon the unearned increment of land applies only to the larger land-owners, and it excludes from consideration altogether the farmers and the owners of freehold of the working class, on which they may live, and from which, in some cases, they may reap moderate rentals. When we realize that the first £5,000 of unimproved capital value of land is exempt and if we make a moderate estimate of £3,000 for improvements, we realize that the majority of the landowners are not called upon to pay any tax. Under this bill, or under the existing land tax legislation, a person would have to be in possession of land of a capital value of £8,000 before he would be called upon to pay land tax.

Mr Fairbairn - Less a mortgage of £4,000, probably.

Mr BRENNAN - The degree to which any person is in debt is another matter altogether about which we have no figures. Suffice it to say that what applies to the land-owner applies also to the business man, to the professional man, and to others, but we have no exact information at the moment as to that indebtedness.

The allegation made by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) that he objected on principle to this tax because it is a capital tax leaves me entirely unmoved. It invites me rather to do what I fear Mr. Speaker would not allow me to do, namely, to enter into an elaborate disquisition of the evils of land monopoly. That is a subject on which I could speak feelingly, and, indeed, enthusiastically, and I could quote figures, and, having done so, I should be able to submit a set of facts which would temper the feelings of those who are inclined to sympa thize with persons who begin to pay a moderate land tax on a property £8,000 or £9,000 in value.

I do not think it matters very much, although it is interesting, that this tax is paid more by the land-owners of the city than by the land-owners among primary producers. I think it is possible, and even probable, that, if a list of taxpayers were made out, it would be found that the taxpayers of the cities, insurance com panies, commercial houses, and companies of that sort which own the valuable properties in the cities, do include a larger number of unscrupulous "go-getters" than one finds - among the rich landowners in the country districts. I think that that can be conceded; but what strikes me about this increase of the land tax, this moderate increase, which was hesitantly made by the Treasurer, and reluctantly supported by his supporters, is that it really gives back to the Treasurer only portion of what he restored to the rich land-owners on various occasions which have now passed into history. I trust that the Treasurer will not do as he did on a previous occasion, that is, challenge my figures and then hurriedly leave the chamber while I was substantiating them.

Mr Casey - I challenged them on the first possible subsequent occasion.

Mr BRENNAN - The money which the Treasurer proposes to raise could be very usefully employed in the interests of people who need it. I would have been delighted to hear that the increased land tax to be paid by those who can easily bear it foreshadowed a reduction of the sales tax which is borne by people who cannot afford to pay it, and even a reduction of the income tax. But, unfortunately, it foreshadows nothing better than a piquant illustration of the lines upon which the Government proposes to act in its hysterical war propaganda.

Mr Holloway - lt is the first dose.

Mr BRENNAN - Yes ; this is merely a first dose of the , taxes to be imposed upon a long-suffering people. This is a part of a general orgy of expenditure for defence .purposes. It is suggested that there is an indication - the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) mentioned it - of something in the nature of a recession in progress. It is not a depression, hut a recession. Because the honorable member for Deakin, that promising young apostle of United Australia partyism, knows perfectly well that to keep on speaking of depression is incidentally a bad advertisement for capitalism, the system which he supports, he uses the word " recession " which is softer and more gentle. He wishes to persuade the people that a recession is the natural order of things, and that it is merely an undulatory movement for the good of our souls. There is a possibility of a recession which is hardly better in its worst phases than a depression.

Mr Hutchinson - There is a difference.

Mr BRENNAN - If so it is a matter of degree, but granted that it is a recession it means that times are again becoming bad. They have never been particularly good since the last recession for the people whom I represent, and are not likely to be. In these circumstances we have to be content with a land tax, bad as it is, because whatever we do we must find money for defence to prepare for an imaginary foe. The Government proposes to spend £50,000,000 and perhaps more over a period of years. The Treasurer has told us that while it is economically unsound to indulge in a policy of inflation to succour the poor, it is morally and economically right to indulge in inflation to meet the expense incurred to combat an imaginary foe. At any rate this is one of those occasions which enable us to see the underlying policy of the Government and those who support it in the matter of taxation and defence, because the two are inextricably inter-related. Who are these defence enthusiasts who declare that money must be found under a policy of inflation for defence purposes, yet say that such a policy cannot be adopted to succour the miserable and the outcast?

Mr Casey - Who suggested a policy of inflation?

Mr BRENNAN - The Treasurer.

Mr Casey - I have never mentioned it.

Mr BRENNAN - The defence enthusiasts in this chamber, and out of it, are those who have much to defend. They should make the sacrifices. Their terror over attacks upon their unearned increment is not justified. Those who have property to defend should be compelled to pay in order to protect the unfortunate persons who have been despoiled by this Government and who have nothing to defend.

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