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Tuesday, 3 December 1935

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) . - I direct the attention of the Government to the manner in which the revenue for the first five months of the current financial year has been under-estimated. Honorable senators are aware that for that period the revenue from customs and excise was £1,250,000 in excess of the estimate. This has an important bearing on the trade balance between Australia and Great Britain which will have to be dealt with at an early date. It will be remembered that the adverse trade balance in 1934 was £11,000,000, which had to be met from funds in London. I understand that at the end of 1935, the adverse trade balance will be approximately £16,000,000. London funds cannot be utilized indefinitely to meet the difference in our trade figures. In studying the statistics of trade between Australia and the United Kingdom it will be found that while our exports are about stationary, imports increased in value by £5,500,000. In implementing the Ottawa agreement, Australia has honoured its obligations; but drastic steps will have to be taken to protect Australia's credit. "We cannot continue purchasing goods of a greater value than we export. I do not wish to deal with our protective policy, or the value of our secondary industries in providing employment, but we have to realize that steps must be taken to ensure that the value of the goods we export balances imports.

Senator Gibson - How does the honorable senator suggest that that can bo done?

Senator LECKIE - Australia should consume 70 per cent, instead of 60 per cent, of the goods it produces.

I rose more particularly to refer to the sales tax. I differ entirely from Senator Foll and some other honorable senators, because I believe that the sales tax, apart from the inconvenience which it causes certain traders, is a better means of raising revenue than is income tax, land tax, property tax. or almost any other form of tax. It has been said that this tax deprives industry of capital and prevents employment; but apart from the slight inconvenience caused to business men - this has been practically overcome - .the sales tax is the fairest way to raise revenue.

Senator Foll - Does it not retard business ?

Senator LECKIE - No. It is spread over such a large number of persons that the amount which each pays is insignificant. That is not only my personal opinion; it is also the opinion of a large body of taxpayers throughout Aus. tralia. Practically the whole of Australian manufacturers say that they would prefer the sales tax to a super tax on incomes or a property tax. They contend that it would be in the best interests of trade and of employment if the money now paid as taxes on income and on property were invested in industry. I differ from Senator Foll and others who have been misled concerning the alleged inconveniences caused in the collection of the sales tax. This tax is borne fairly equitably by all sections of the community.

With Senator Foll and other honorable senators, I am alarmed at the distribution of revenue as between the Commonwealth and the States; a better method will have to be devised in order to put the finances of the States on a sound and permanent footing. The States should not have continually to come to the Commonwealth Government pleading poverty, and claiming that they cannot carry on without the aid of large grants from the federal exchequer. I was somewhat amused at the attitude of one honorable senator from Western Australia, who praised the Western Australian Government for restoring the salaries of its public servants, and, at the same time, blamed the Commonwealth Government for not making a similar restoration to Commonwealth public servants. He completely ignored the fact that the Western Australian Government was enabled to make this generous gesture by the special grants it received from this Parliament!

Much has been said by honorable senators of all parties concerning the opinion held of this Senate by the people of Australia generally. There is a good deal of truth in the report that this chamber has suffered in the eyes of the general public, and that to-day it does not stand quite so high in the estimation of the people as it di'd previously. I may be wrong in this statement. If, however, the Senate has fallen in public estimation, the fault lies with honorable senators themselves; if we do not respect our positions as members of this chamber we cannot expect people outside to respect us. No self-respecting body of legislators would put up with the inconveniences under which honorable senators have to attend to their duties. The private member of this Senate has no privileges at all. For instance, I have two rabbit burrows in a dark hole of this building in which to keep my official papers. In my private business I am used to sitting at a desk equipped with a telephone and drawers for my papers. Certainly we have a club room, but this is used by 36 honorable senators,, and is furnished with only five desks.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - The accommodation for honorable senators here is much better than it was in Melbourne.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Yes. The conveniences are much greater.

Senator LECKIE - That is not so. Should I desire to provide myself in this building with a change of clothing or shoes, or an umbrella - and, in view of the changeable weather in Canberra this often becomes essential - I am unable to do so, because I am not supplied with the necessary lockers or cupboards.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Lockers are provided for that purpose in the basement.

Senator LECKIE - Last week, when I desired to confer with one of my friends on a certain tariff schedule, I had to rely on the courtesy of a member of the House of Representatives, who had by main force commandeered a room for himself in the basement. Only through his courtesy was I able to confer with my friend. Such conditions should not exist. Private members of this chamber should have facilities equal to those which they would have were they working in their own offices. This is essential if honorable senators are to carry on their work properly. Such facilities should be provided for us, not as a matter of favour or privilege, but as a right. You, Mr. President, have a suite of rooms at your disposal, where you may shed your official dignity and robes and relax into your normal self - a genial Irish gentleman. Ministers in this chamber, as well as officers and messengers, also have suites of rooms at their disposal. The comfort of everybody except private members of this chamber seems to be catered for. The three honorable senators who compose the Opposition have three rooms between them. If I lay out my papers on a desk in the Senate club room, in preparation for work in this chamber, and am suddenly called away, I have to dump my papers into a bag. I repeat that honorable senators cannot be expected to carry on their work properly under such conditions. Members of the House of Representatives also, I understand, are in much the same position.

Senator Gibson - Each member of the House of Representatives has a locker at his disposal.

Senator LECKIE - Until we, as members of a deliberative assembly, have our rights recognized the outside public will not respect us. On last Thursday a new tariff schedule was tabled in the House of Representatives. It directly affected the interests of many people whom I represent, and probably the interests of millions of people in Australia. Yet, when I applied for a copy of that schedule on the day on which it was tabled, I was told that it was not available. However, copies were distributed to members of the House of Representatives, and, I understand, to the press and certain members of the outside public also. "When Melbourne people asked me by telephone to secure a copy of this schedule with the relevant tariff reports I had to reply that they were not available to me as an honorable senator. Is this a proper way to treat honorable senators? Furthermore, if honorable senators are to win and maintain the respect of the outside public they will have to carry on the business of this chamber in a less hurried fashion than has been the practice during this session. Repeatedly bills have been rushed through this chamber on the day on which honorable senators first received copies of them. I know that we have been hurried this session because the passage of certain measures had to 'be expedited, but to enable this chamber to do its work effectively honorable senators must be given sufficient time to study in detail measures which are to be dealt with in this chamber. My remarks may seem to be in tho nature of a tirade, but I feel that I had to speak frankly on these matters ; I have merely described conditions as they exist.

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