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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - It is not usual for me to debate bills which I am supporting. I generally confine my remarks to those occasions on which I find myself out of agreement with what is being proposed. But this is not an ordinary occasion. Certain special circumstances about to-night's meeting of the House call for comment.

We have had many taxing measures placed before us since the outbreak of the war in 1939. Not a great deal was said about the taxing measures consequent upon the budget of 1939, but the budget of 1940, introduced after a general election, provided for certain increases of taxes, especially in relation to lower incomes, which were debated at some length. On that occasion the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) succeeded in inducing the Government of the day, wrongly, I think, to adopt what has become known as the compromise of 1940.

It is interesting to observe how the attitude of the Labour party has changed on these subjects within a very few months. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Perkins) said this afternoon that honorable gentlemen opposite were about twelve months behind the times all the time. Having this in mind I shall refer to some observations made by the present Prime Minister when hp was Leader of the Opposition in 1940. In discussing the budget on the 28th November, 1940, he said -

Wars are not fought with money. Asa matter of fact we shall fight Hitler not with

a.   cheque book, not by printing notes, not by the wizardry of book-keeping, but by maintaining the physical strength of the people of this country and of all the countries on whose side we are righting.

After discussing, a number of other subjects the honorable gentleman observed -

It is on this very substantial field of State taxation on the lower ranges of income that the Commonwealth Government now proposes to superimpose a great deal of new taxation. It proposes to do this directly and indirectly. It proposes to reduce the exemption from £250 to £150 and also to increase heavily the burden of indirect taxation.

Later the honorable gentleman referred to certain estimates of the yield of revenue anticipated from Federal trespass in certain fields of taxation and observed - 1 am not surprised that that table is correct because the whole theory is that if the Treasurer is in difficulties and has to get the money he can get it only by bringing into the field the great number of those who have previously been outside it. You cannot go up; you have to step down.

It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister is beginning to realize the force of some of his own statements.

We debated another budget in October. 1941. This contained important proposals for substantial increases of income tax, and the. introduction of a system of compulsory savings. It was in consequence of those proposals that a change of government took place. I should not be allowed to quote from the Hansard report of the current session of Parliament in order to direct attention to certain statements by the present Prime Minister but I have available to me a pamphlet entitled Digest of Decisions and Announcements. a.nd Important Speeches by the Prime Minister (Hon. John Curtin). It cannot be said that in making the statements published in this pamphlet the Prime Minister was not in a position to realize the extent to which he was committing himself and his party, for, Heaven knows, he was aware of the situation which faced us. One statement that the honorable gentleman made - and this is from his broadcast summary of the 1941-42 budget - was as follows: -

The new budget, however, contains many new and important features which give effect to Labour's views. It provides for increases in soldiers' pay and in old-age pensions; it distributes the burden of taxation over those bust able to hear that burden; it relies on the voluntary principle for loans; it proposes to draw upon central bank credit to fi iia 1, CE expansion of production.

The honorable gentleman made other remarks along these lines, and finished that aspect of the subject by saying - no doubt for the benefit of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) -

It pledges the Government early next year to introduce legislation for a mortgage bank.

Another notable observation which the honorable gentleman made on that occasion was -

In accordance with this principle- that is ability to pay - the essential living standards of the basic wage family can and will bc maintained under the Government's plans. Happily we have abundant supplies of food so that no one need suffer privation of any of the things necessary to maintain the bodily health and strength of our people.

Those statements were made six weeks ago. If there were any doubt as to the intention of the Government to proceed along those lines it was removed by a statement of the honorable member for Wimmera, who, in addressing himself to the subject of the taxing of lower incomes, said that it would not add one iota to the success of our efforts to wage the war. I do not raise these issues in any spirit of vindictiveness or with any desire to delay the passage of essential legislation.

We are living in very serious times and one of the most serious things about the meeting of this House to-night - and I make this statement deliberately - is that a goodly number of honorable members o? the House have already left Canberra to return to their homes.

Mr Conelan - Only from the Opposition side of the House.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I do not, care to which side they belong. I say that any member of this Parliament who, for private reasons, has left his duties here and gone to his home is, in my opinion, no better than a man who in battle " rats " on his cobbers in the firing line. I am dealing with facts and not with persons. We were called here to deal with certain essential business under conditions that are such that no Minister can say at what moment a wireless message may be received which may involve this Parliament in the consideration of certain other very important subjects. Considering the pains to which some honorable gentlemen went to secure election to this Parliament the least they could do, in the circumstances which now face us, is to remain here to see their job through. I do not care who the members are who are absent from the chamber on this occasion. I consider that their names and actions should be published throughout the length and breadth of Australia and, particularly, in their own electorates.

In 1940 the then Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) suggested that the income exemption should be reduced to £150. The present Government has now reduced it to £156, which is only £6 above the figure to which honorable gentlemen opposite refused to agree in December, 1940. They also refused, six weeks ago, to accept the compulsory savings plan. Whilst I was not particularly enthusiastic about that plan, believing that straight out taxation was a better method, I was not willing to make a row about it. I say that the opposition to, and condemnation of, that proposal by members and supporters of the present Government was unjustified in view of the need to obtain revenue. In any case honorable gentlemen opposite have now to face the necessity to impose additional taxation on people in the lower income ranges. They would not do this three weeks ago, but circumstances have altered so that they have now been obliged to adopt this procedure, even though their leader stated only twelve months ago that wars were not fought with money.

Honorable members who are now supporting the Government have changed their minds on many occasions since the outbreak of war. I do not wish to discuss these changes at any great length, but we have to recognize that there are serious problems ahead of us. I believe that it will only be by the combined efforts of honorable gentlemen on both sides of the House that these problems will be solved. The Government, wrongly, I think, has decided to take a certain course and it must accept the responsibility for its decision. I know that many people will say that we should not argue about these things at present, as we know that serious times are ahead of us, but, in my opinion, sooner or later, the fact will inevitably be brought home to the people of Australia that on too many instances the taking of the steps necessary for the winning of this war have been left to honorable gentlemen with a very inadequate conception of how wars should be fought and won. There will have to be a stocktaking in this country, and the reckoning will have to be faced with courage. This is one of the occasions on which some of us who have held executive authority in Australia during the war - my own term of office was not very long - and who, as members of previous governments, know something of the problems that have to be faced, should be called upon for help. The previous Government was never given an ounce of help, or a farthing's worth of assistance by some honorable members. Its efforts were hindered, hampered, and pushed aside on a number of occasions. Sometimes it was to blame because of its lack of punch. Nevertheless, those conditions did prevail and in the circumstances I think it only fair that that side of the case should be stated.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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