Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 15 December 1914

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - I support this measure for many reasons. It seems to me that in the discussion the main object for which it was introduced has been departed from very largely. In a sort of aside the Minister referred to the fact that it probably would 'go another step towards breaking up land monopoly in Australia.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - That is the reason he gave for bringing in the Bill.

Senator O'KEEFE - I believe that it will go a step farther than the existing legislation has gone. I hope that will prove to be the case. But that is not the first object with which this taxation was introduced

Senator Ready - It is a very important object, anyhow.

Senators O'KEEFE. - It is not of the first importance. Senator Millen did not oppose the tax itself so much as he complained of the fact that it could not be properly called a wax tax. To get down to hard facts, we are faced with the necessity of getting revenue. We must have more revenue than we could obtain if we adhered to the existing channels of taxation. The reason for the great opposition to this taxation proposal in another place and here is that the Government have not proceeded on lines which the Liberal or Fusion party would have followed in raising extra revenue. There is no doubt that Australia to-day is faced with a position which was not contemplated until the war broke out. We need more revenue, in spite of Senator Gould's assertion that this is a time for retrenchment, and not for expenditure. We want more revenue to carry on the ordinary business of this country. It is not a time for hesitancy or timidity on the part of the Government, but it is a time for launching a bold policy, if it is possible, so as to fill up the gaps of unemployment which have been created by the peculiar conditions surrounding us, owing to the war. We need to keep the wheels of industry moving, and if the State Governments cannot assist private enterprise to do it to the fullest extent they would desire, the Federal Government have a duty to perform, and that is to assist the State Governments in that regard. That makes it imperative for the Commonwealth to raise more revenue than otherwise it would have to raise for the current year. The State Governments also find it incumbent to try to decrease the alarming proportions of unemployment which have arisen owing to the war. The Commonwealth Government are faced with the necessity of raising additional revenue to meet the extraordinary conditions of the time. It has been stated in another place, and hinted at here in the couple of speeches which have been made against this measure, that this revenue should be raised in a different way.

Senator Ready - By duties on tea and kerosene ?

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes, by .the taxation of such articles as tea and kerosene. This is the favorite cry of a powerful section of the Australian press to-day. It is claimed that at least a portion of the additional revenue required should be raised by reverting to the taxation o'n tea and kerosene, which was repealed by the Labour party in the early years of Federation.

Senator Bakhap - The press supporting the honorable senator's party is advocating the imposition of the duties he refers to.

Senator O'KEEFE - I do not know what section of the press the honorable senator can refer to.

Senator Bakhap - The Age newspaper.

Senator O'KEEFE - The Age newspaper does not support the Labour party. It supports the Labour party, or any other party, when it suits it. The members of the Labour party have never claimed the Age las a consistent supporter.

Senator Bakhap - The Labour party would never have carried Victoria at the recent elections had it not been for the support of the Age.

Senator O'KEEFE - We are thankful for small mercies. I am glad that we were supported by the Age at the last elections, or, rather, that Senator Bakhap's party was opposed by the Age, which is the more correct way of putting it. The question is whether we should not ask the wealthy people of this country to bear their share of the additional taxation necessary owing to the war. Will any member of the Opposition contend that the wage-earners of Australia are not doing their share in this crisis ? From whose ranks are the men being drawn who are to-day fighting the battles of the British Empire?

Senator Bakhap - Happily, they are being drawn from all ranks.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so; but it is well known that the greater proportion of the 20,000 Australians who have gone to take their part in the struggles of the Empire were drawn from the ranks of the wage-earners of Australia. If the workers of Australia are prepared to risk their lives in this crisis in order to prevent the Empire falling to pieces, and to secure the safety of this country, surely those who own the wealth and the lands of Australia should be prepared to do their part. That is why I claim that this Bill, and other taxation measures introduced by the present Government, are absolutely justified by the circumstances in which they have been introduced. Senator Gould tells us that the burden of taxation should be made to fall more equitably all. round. I would ask the honorable senator who are the people who are suffering the burden, not merely of taxation, but of the troubles by which the workers of Australia are surrounded. I am satisfied that if the Opposition had been in power they would have imposed taxation on tea and kerosene, articles used by all classes, but just as largely used by the workers as by the wealthy class.

Senator Needham - We are all agreed that the burden of taxation should be distributed more equitably.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so; but it never has been distributed equitably in the past. Senator Gould will agree that if the burden of taxation is not distributed, according to his idea of equity, the burden of the abnormal troubles surrounding the workers of Australia is not being distributed equitably either. The sufferings which the Australian people are being called upon to undergo because of the war have to be borne, not by the wealthy people who will have to pay this land tax, or their descendants who will be called upon to pay the succession duties, but by the workers of Australia", who, because of the crisis due to the war, have found themselves out of their regular employment. Tens of thousands of men in Australia to-day, who are lucky enough to be in any employment at all, are working only half-time. What a pretty measure of justice it would be to say to these men, "You must bear a still further share of the necessary expenditure due to the war."

Senator Bakhap - Do the Government propose to give all these men full employment ?

Senator O'KEEFE - Senator Bakhapknows perfectly well that it is impossible for the Government to do anything of the kind. My argument is that the extra revenue required should be derived from those who are best able to pay it, and they are not the workers of Australia. Whilst there are many workers who are employed only half time, there are many others whose employment is intermittent. The workers, who represent four-fifths of the manhood and the womanhood of Australia, are to-day suffering far more heavily because of the war than is the other one-fifth, and it is because of the war that this extra taxation is necessary. If another Government had been in power, I am sure that they would have gone in for retrenchment. Senator Gould has said that this is a time for retrenchment. I say that this is not a time when either the Federal or the State Governments should go in for unnecessary retrenchment. It is rather a time when they should pursue a bold policy, in order to assist in re- ducing unemployment. To do that, a larger revenue is necessary, and the fairest way in which to raise it is to get it from the people who are best able to bear taxation. The workers of Australia are not now, and will not during the next year, be the class best able to bear an extra burden of taxation. When we find that the men of Australia are willing to bear their share of the actual fighting-

Senator Millen - All classes are doing that.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so; but Senator Millen will agree that much the larger proportion is drawn from the working classes. I suppose that quite four-fifths of our men who have gone to take part in the struggle have been drawn from the workers of Australia, and not more than one-fifth represent the leisured or wealthy classes.

Senator Senior - How did retrenchment affect Victoria in times gone by ?

Senator O'KEEFE - How has it affected every other State in times gone by? It seems to me that whenever we are faced with unusual circumstances, the same old cry is raised by the same old party. I remember that when, thirty years ago, in my own State, there was a period of abnormal depression and a substantial deficit, the party in power started retrenching the civil servants, and cutting everything to the hone. That, apparently, is the course which would be adopted by our political opponents if they were in power in the Federal Parliament to-day. They would go in for retrenchment, and would not try to stem the tide of unemployment that is increasing in volume every day. Senator Millen states that this is not a war tax. It does not matter what the honorable senator Calls it, the fact remains that it would not have been necessary but for the war. I welcome this class of taxation, if extra taxation is necessary to raise the revenue required. I prefer it to the kind of taxation our Fusion friends would have imposed had they been in power. As for the second object of the tax, the breaking up of land monopoly in Australia, I hope it will be found to have that effect also. Although the existing land tax has been instrumental in assisting to break up land monopoly in Tasmania, and, to a greater extent, on the mainland, it has not done as much in that direction as I hoped it would do. If this increase in the tax will do more, I shall be very pleased. The first object of this measure is to raise the extra revenue required because of the war, and I believe that it has recourse to the best channel through which to obtain that revenue.

Suggest corrections