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Friday, 17 November 1905

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) - The motion for the first reading of the Appropriation Bill is, equivalent to the introduction of the Budget in" another place, and it is customary on such occasions to discuss the finances of the States and the policy of the Government. I think that honorable senators are entitled to avail themselves of the opportunity to discuss the policy of the Government - their sins of omission and commission-and to advocate any system which they believe to be desirable for the general good of the Commonwealth. There is one matter in respect of which I complain that nothing has been done, although the vast majority of both Houses of the Parliament are, or profess to be, strongly in favour of it. At the last general election, every candidate, no matter to what party he belonged, advocated the Commonwealth Parliament doing that which it was contemplated by the Constitution should be done, and that is the establishing of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system. I do not know of one case in which a candidate for election to this Parliament at the last general elections did not place that proposal in the very forefront of his programme. I therefore ask why some step has not been taken towards the accomplishment of that which every honorable senator has agreed is necessary and desirable. Why has no Government placed a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme in the forefront of its programme? Why has our time been wasted upon the consideration of what I may call comparative trivialities, while a great question of this kind awaits settlement? It seems to me that the only explanation is that when honorable members, in order to secure their return, made these professions before the country, they were not in earnest. I advocated the establishment of the system when I was seeking the support of the electors, and I am prepared to carry out straight-away the professions I then made. I do not wish to shelter myself behind any excuse whatever. The majority of honorable senators say that the reason for the delay in providing for a Federal system of old-age pensions is that, in view of the provisions of the Braddon section, which compel us. to return to the States three- fourths of the total revenue derived from Customs and Excise, we should have to impose an enormously greater amount of taxation than is necessary for general purposes, and therefore we should disarrange the finances, not only of the Commonwealth, but of the States. Members of both Houses and of various Governments have sheltered; themselves behind that excuse. It is a. most paltry and insufficient excuse, because no limitation was placed on their promises to the electors. Thev did not say, ""We shall establish a Federal system if we can raise, the money, or if we can get round the Braddon section." On the contrary, they made no conditions. They said : " We are in favour of Federal old-age pensions, and we shall proceed to establish a scheme if you will give us your support and return us to Parliament." Every Government has professed to be in favour of this great project, and therefore there is no reasonable excuse for members not carrying it out.

Senator Gray - Is there not a Royal Commission sitting now?

Senator GIVENS - It seems to me that the way in which to shelve everything and to go behind the promises made by candidates to electors, is to appoint a Royal Commission. A Royal Commission is sitting, but at one stage the inquiry into this subject was mixed up with the question of tobacco manufacture and other matters. I wish to approach the subject in the same way as I did outside ; and I do not desire to shelter myself behind any Royal Commission or the Braddon section. This project could be carried out here and now if honorable senators were in earnest, and I challenge them to proceed in that direction if a way is shown to them. According to Coghlan, at page 841 of the last edition of his Statistical Record ' of Australia and New Zealand, to pay Federal old-age pensions on the New South Wales basis, will involve' an expenditure of .£1,467,000 a year. It will not mean the imposition of a new burden to that extent upon the taxpayers, because we know that it costs a considerable amount to both Victoria and New South Wales to provide old-age pensions under their respective systems, and the establishment of a Federal ' system would immediately relieve their taxpayers of that portion of their burden. In Queensland there is also a system of oldage relief, by which men under certain circumstances are paid 5s. a week ; and to that extent its taxpayers would be relieved. So that the amount which Mr. Coghlan estimates a Federal scheme would cost cannot be reckoned as being equivalent to the imposition of a burden to that extent upon the country, because relief would be given to the taxpayers in the States in other directions. Mr. Coghlan also estimates that the total expenditure in Australia on poor relief and asylums, including old-age pensions, amounts to no less than ,£2,131,702. If an efficient system of old-age pensions were established, the amount which is spent on poor relief arid asylums would be reduced to a minimum, and the States would be relieved of a considerable expenditure.

Senator Gray - That has not been so in New South Wales.

Senator GIVENS - There is no reason why it should not have been so in that State. But suppose for a moment that an expenditure of .£1,500,000 were necessary to establish a Federal scheme, and that the taxpayers were not relieved of any taxation which' they are now paying, although Senator Gray must admit that they would be very considerably relieved, this Parliament is in honour bound to discharge a duty which it owes generally to the electors, and particularly to the old people who have done so much to build up the Commonwealth, and add to its welfare and prosperity. A sum of ,£1,500,000 is not too much to pay to secure the comfort of those old people, nor should we hesitate a moment about authorizing its expenditure. To shelter ourselves behind the Braddon section is a mere subterfuge. Who has derived the chief benefit and advantage from the increase of population, from the pioneering efforts of so many of these old people who bravely went out to explore and open up new country, who carried their swags on their backs from one end of the territory to the other, and led the way to the opening up of new gold and mineral fields? I answer, the land-owners. It would not be too much to ask them to return a little of the enormous profit which they have received, to assist in providing a fund to insure to these old pioneers that in their declining years, when they are footsore and weary, and no longer able to work- they shall' at any rate be free from the fear of want and misery, which otherwise would continually haunt them. When I point out that, with an exemption of £300, the imposition of a tax of id. in the £1 on private land values would provide no less than £1,200,000 per annum - nearly sufficient ito carry out a Federal oldage ' pension scheme - it will be seen that there is no excuse for the people of Australia refusing to submit to so slight a tax in order fo fulfil a sacred duty. There are different systems of land taxation in the States. I do 'not know of any State in which the land has not to bear some portion of the burden of general taxation, but in no State is it called upon to bear a sufficient portion. According to Coghlan, the unimproved value of land in the Commonwealth amounts to no less than £373,679,000. A tax of id. in the £1 on that sum would provide, without an exemption!, '£1,556,000, but with an exemption of £300, about £1,200,000. Although I am a firm believer in the efficacy and justice of a land tax, still I never wish to tax a man on what is necessary to enable him to make a. living. But when private owners have so much that they derive not only a living, but enjoy every luxury which wealth can command, their land is a proper subject for taxation. Without population the land of a country would have absolutely no value. It is population which creates a demand for land, and therefore gives to it a value. Private land-owners have derived enormous benefits from the enterprise, the skill, the labour of the people of Australia, and the expenditure of public money. Take, for instance, Melbourne. If we had not all the railways converging from various parts of Victoria upon Melbourne, continually bringing within its reach the results of the labour of the people in the back country, would it be half as prosperous as it is, or would land here be one-half, or one-quarter, or onetwentieth as valuable as it is to-day? No. The expenditure of public money upon the railways, the establishment of factories and the work of the people, have contributed very largely to the value of private property in this city. In fact, the Government cannot do a single thing to add to the prosperity of the country without the private land-owner coming in and reaping the lion's share of the benefit. Is it asking too much, then, to expect that the men who have derived such enormous advantages shall contribute a little money to provide for the declining years of those who have borne the burden and heat of the day, and are no longer able to take care of themselves? Undoubtedly, an old-age pension should be given by the country as a right, and npt as a charity. I do not wish the Federal scheme to be tainted with charity in any way. If I were old and dying to-morrow, I should spurn anything offered to me by way of charity, whereas I should be proud and grateful to accept anything which my country bestowed upon me as a right. I do not wish' to quote, a mass of figures, but if any particulars are desired by any honorable senator I can quote from Coghlan the figures with regard to the old-age pension schemes and various systems of poor relief in vogue in various States of the Commonwealth and in New Zealand. I shall confine myself to answering a few objections which I anticipate, from the general tone of sortie honorable senators, mav be advanced against my arguments. In the first place, we shall probably be told that to advocate a tax on land is to advocate what amounts to confiscation. Confiscation is a fine big word, which, like that blessed word Mesopotamia, seems to have a consoling effect upon some honorable senators. When they get upon public platforms they talk largely about confiscation. They say, " You will confiscate the property of land-owners if you impose a land tax." Let us examine that 'statement for a moment. It is my opinion - -firm, and unalterable, because it is based upon a fact which no one can successfully dispute - that it is the private landowner who is the great confisc'ator. Other persons are continually creating the value of land, and he confiscates it to his own use. If taxation is confiscation, what right, in equity and justice, has any Government to tax me for the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the sugar I consume, or the tobacco I smoke, when the people have not contributed anything to the money by which I pay that taxation ? Why should I, because I smoke, be compelled to contribute £3 a year to the revenue of the country, while the man who does not smoke contributes nothing at all, so far as tobacco is concerned? If it is confiscation to impose a land tax,' it is confiscation, in a worse form, to impose a tax on a person because he uses a certain article. Land-owners are continually deriving great profits created by the people, and it is only fair that they should return at least a portion of that wealth to the 'people. The argument of confiscation is constantly used by unthinking people in the presence of unthinking audience's ; but a land tax is merely the exaction of a small percentage of wealth already confiscated by the land-owner.

Senator Pearce - It is restitution.

Senator GIVENS - In Queensland, any man who, by working in the bowels of the earth under most difficult conditions, earns £150 per' annum, has to pay £1 5s. in the form of income tax. Surely that is confiscation of hard-earned earnings, which are barely enough to provide himself and his family with the necessaries of life, not to speak of luxuries. We ought to 'remember that it is other systems of taxation which really mean confiscation, and that a land tax is merely a means of compelling restitution of a small proportion of the wealth bestowed by the people on landowners. If members of the Federal Parliament and the various Governments had been sincere, there would have been a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme established long ago. The need for such a system is insistent, and even if ever\ State of the Commonwealth had old-age pensions to-morrow, that need would remain. Every State in which there is an old-age pension imposes conditions as to length of residence, although during the last fifty years, owing to the discovery of new mineral fields and other causes, the movements of population have been general and continuous. The result is that in every State there are a large number of old people who have not established the residential qualification, and for that reason any State scheme falls short, in so far as it does not provide for old people., who, in many cases,, are the best citizens of the Commonwealth. The Constitution unmistakably contemplates that the Federal. Parliament shall deal with this great question, and I fail to see how we can be considered to have fully discharged our dutv if we do not deal with it seriously and earnestly. The Braddon section is no sufficient bar or excuse for failure to legislate in this direction. It is true that if the funds are to be derived from Customs and Excise, the Braddon section will render it necessary to raise four times the necessary sum ; and that is a very serious difficulty, which must be faced. But it is not true that we have to look only +0 Customs and Excise for the revenue sufficient for. the performance of the duties intrusted to us under the Constitution. The

Commonwealth Parliament is absolutely supreme in taxation. We have unlimited power to impose taxation for such purposes as may be deemed necessary; and it is a mere subterfuge to contend that we are confined to Customs and Excise. My own opinion is that Customs and Excise represent the most wasteful methods of raising taxation. The taxpayer is compelled to pay, not only the duty, but interest on the duty, so that he contributes, it may be, 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, more than the revenue really receives.

Senator Gray - Customs and Excise are the easiest methods of taxation, because the people do not know what they are paying.

Senator GIVENS - That is the whole secret. It is a matter of history who devised the system of taxation through the Customs, and the inventor was certainly a very long-headed person. As a matter of fact, the duty of defending and governing England was cast, in the first place, on the land-owners. Under the Feudal system the barons, and land-owners generally, held their land from the Crown!, on condition of contributing so much in taxation every year, and keeping a certain number of men at arms always ready to fight the battles of the Crown ; and that taxation was quietly passed on to the great bulk of the community by the means of Customs and Excise duties. That was an act of spoliation and robbery well worthy of .those ancient land thieves. Further, the barons not only grabbed the land generally, but fenced in the commons, and left the people of Great Britain without an acre to call their own. In the same way, the big land-owners of Australia block settlement, thus presenting bars, to the progress and prosperity of the country. If a land tax is mentioned, it is called confiscation, but no such term is applied when the Crown demands a portion of the hard-earned earnings of the people.

Senator Gray - You cannot complain of land-owners defending their own- interests.

Senator GIVENS - I am not complaining, but merely pointing out how, unreasonable is the argument which they present. The only advantage of Customs and Excise taxation is that it enables an impost to' be placed on undesirable luxuries, the abuse of which may not tend to the moral or physical well-being of the people. I have already said that this is a most wasteful method of taxation, seeing that it com pels the taxpayer to pay not only the tax, but interest on that tax.

Senator Walker - The honorable senator ought to be a free-trader.

Senator GIVENS - I am afraid that if I were to press the argument to its logical conclusion I should not get the applause of the honorable senator, though I am glad to have that applause, so far as I have gone. If a merchant imports £100 worth of goods, or buys them locally - for, with the free-traders, I contend that the Customs duties are paid in either case - he has to pay, say, a duty of 25 per cent. That brings the value of the goods: up to .£125, and then, whether the merchant is working on borrowed money or onhis own money, interest has to be paid, so that by the time the goods reach the consumer, they are chargeable with the original cost, plus 25 per cent, duty, plus interest on the both. Customs duties have to be paid in cash, and the taxpayer is told that these exactions represent mere taxation, but that a land tax is neither more nor less than confiscation. Apart from its being a more equitable method of taxation than Customs and Excise, and apart from the amount which could, in this way, 'be raised, a land tax has another very great advantage. Senator Stewart laid stress on the point that in many of the States of the Commonwealth population is not increasing as it ought. He explained that although there may be a. slight excess of births over deaths, and a slight annual increase in the total population, the increase is not such as we have a right to expect, and that young men, and, in some cases, young women, are leaving the Commonwealth. I agree with the honorable senator in thinking that that is most undesirable. Why should they be leaving the Commonwealth? It must be for one of two reasons, either that there is noprofitable employment available to induce them to remain in the country, or else (hat the lands are so locked up that no opportunity is afforded to go upon them in order to produce wealth.

Senator Walker - Perhaps other countries offer greater inducements.

Senator GIVENS - If their resources are properly utilized, there is no other country in the world that can offer as great inducements for the settlement of population on the land as can the various States: of Australia.

Senator Walker - What about the Argentine ?

Senator GIVENS - If, according to Senator Walker, the Argentine is a paradise, why does not the honorable senator go there? Australia is a far better country than is the Argentine, but I refuse to be led into an argument on that point now. If a proper system were in vogue the opportunities afforded by Australia are unsurpassed by those of any other country in the world for men to settle on the land and make a prosperous living. I agree with Senator Stewart that by-and-by it will be found that there is room in Australia, not for the paltry 4,000,000 of people we have here at the present time, but for 100,000,000. The way in. which to bring that about is to free the lands of the country. I make bold to say that there is, in the small State of Victoria, sufficient good land to enable the whole of the present population of the Commonwealth to make a decent living on it. That being so, it is the duty of the Parliament of Australia to do something to free the land for the use of the people. I have mentioned Victoria merely bv way of illustration. What I have said of Victoria is, to a greater or lesser extent, true of every State in the Commonwealth. Even in Western Australia, the most recently settled of our States, there is land monopoly now. Although there is any amount of land available in that and in other States , the good lands in all places accessible to a market are more or less locked up. To show the evils of land monopoly, let me relate a little incident that occurred to me when I was in Western Australia. Senator Pearce, who represents that State, will be able to bear out what I say, although I have never related the incident to him. When I visited Katanning, one of the best agricultural districts in the State, I was driven round by a farmer who pointed out a little bush which, he explained, was a poisonous bush. It was to be seen growing in a great many places in the district, and I commiserated with the farmer on the fact. His reply was that it was the best thing that could have happened to the district that that poison bush should grow there. I- was naturally surprised, and asked him why he held that opinion. He said. " Only for it, not one of us would have been allowed to make a living here at all. The land would all have been grabbed- long ago." So a pestilence like that rabid poison plant is regarded as a blessing in disguise, because it has kept off that far worse evil, the bloated land monopolist, who straddles, over so much of this Commonwealth.

Senator Pearce - The land on which the new settlers are going in Western Australia is land which the old settlers regarded as worthless.

Senator GIVENS - The people have to be thankful that the country is rendered unavailable for the land monopolist by the presence of a noxious, poison "plant. It is a great evil and danger in itself, but it is recognised that it is a lesser evil and danger than is the land monopolist, who, but for it, would have grabbed the whole of the land. I do not desire that the lands of Australia should in future be occupied by the tenants of people who do nothing. I do not desire to see established in this country a class similar to the landlords of the old country, who " toil not, neither do they spin," and yet " Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these." With all his wealth', Solomon did not enjoy a tithe of the luxuries enjoyed by these people. In the old country, a man is not permitted to shoot a partridge that is living on the corn which he has sown, because it is required for the landlord's table.

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - We have men in Tasmania who claim, not only the land, but the rivers that run through it.

Senator GIVENS - Such men would own the air, if they could. I point out that, apart from the advantage which it would offer in providing a fund for the establishment of old-age pensions, and apart from the fact that it is a better method of raising taxation than that of Customs or Excise, the imposition of an effective land tax would have the further great advantage .that it would open the lands of Australia to settlement. There can be no monopoly of land if an effective tax is imposed upon it. We 'have had men going round the country telling the farmers that those who support this principle desire to tax them out of their land. The imposition of a land tax is the best thing, that could happen, for the small yeomanry farmer, because it would have the effect of making land available for himself and his sons at a price that would not be extortionate.

Senator Dobson - If we let the poor man escape and rob the rich man, it will always help us.

Senator GIVENS - I have already dealt with the question of confiscation, and I have shown that the land-owner is now confiscating the wealth which others have created.

Senator Dobson - I suppose he has bought and paid for his land.

Senator GIVENS - What about the wealth which population will create next year; has he bought and paid for that also?

Senator Dobson - That is another point..

Senator GIVENS - It is. an inconvenient point for the honorable senator. I go back to biblical times for the honorable senator's benefit, and remind him that Moses said, The land shall not be held for ever : Thus saith the Lord." The honorable senator poses as a kind Christian gentleman, who is willing to carry out the law, and yet he is the champion of those who rob and fleece the people by preventing them from going on the land to make a living from it. I think I have laid down a good principle when I say that whatever is necessary to a man to enable him to make, a- living should be exempt from , taxation. We know that in some of the States a man who earns £150 as a miner is subject to income tax, and I ask whether that is not confiscation. Apart from other aspects of the question, let me point out that if there were no exemptions from the land tax, it would be better for the farmer that he should have to put his hand into his pockets to pay £3 under direct taxation than to have to pay £5 or £6 under indirect taxation. If the farmers were but wise they would be amongst the strongest advocates of direct taxation, because thev would know under that 'system what they were paying, and they would not have to pay, in addition to the tax, profit and interest on the tax, as they must do in respect of taxation through Customs and Excise. If we were in earnest, as we profess to be, about the establishment of an old-age pensions scheme, we could find the means to do it. All we have to do is to impose a land tax of a. penny in the £1, with an exemption of land of the value of £300, and we shall raise sufficient money to provide a fund from which old-age pensions can be paid throughout the Commonwealth on the basis of the pension now paid in New South Wales. Is that too much to ask? When honorable senators opposite want a stalking horse they trot out the poor man. Let them show their earnestness now by forcing upon, thu Government what is their duty, and the duty of Parliament, that is, to carry out what was contemplated bv the Constitution, and promised by almost every member of every party in this Parliament, by providing for the poor old people of the Commonwealth by an efficient system of old-age pensions.

Senator O'Keefe - The time is not opportune.

Senator GIVENS - It is only opportune at election time. After members of Parliament are returned they put their fingers to their noses, and find excuses for neglecting to fulfil their pledges - the Braddon section prevents them, and if it does not, something ' else does. But for earnest men difficulties exist only iri order to be overcome. Members of Parliament who profess that they are in favour of an old-age pensions scheme, and will not find the money to give it effect, are merely playing with the question, and laughing at the misery and need of the poor old people of . the Commonwealth who have done so much for the community. Those of' us who are young and vigorous now should remember that it is largely owing to the exertions of the old people that we enjoy the measure of prosperity which we possess to-day. It is merely playing with this matter to be continually finding excuses. The way is open. For my part,. I do not agree with Senator Stewart that we should adopt methods to induce the States Parliaments to impose taxation. If it is right to do something we should not try to force the other fellow to do it, but should do it ourselves. The honorable senator's suggestion savours very much of an excuse also. What probability is there that we can get an effective land tax passed through six largely reactionary States Parliaments, with their six wholly reactionary Upper Houses?. We cannot compel the States to adopt a uniform tax. We have ourselves the power to do all that is necessary. We can accomplish the great purpose, and why should we not proceed to do it instead of trying to force the States to do what we know they cannot do owing to the barriers interposed by their reactionary Upper Houses? We should never attempt to shelter ourselves behind other people. A land tax of a penny in the £1 would, according to Coghlan, provide a sufficient fund to pay old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth on the basis of that paid in New South Wales. The tax, which, I believe, would be most effective, would be a graduated land tax, beginning at about one penny in the £1 on properties just over the value of £300, and increasing, according as the value of the estates increase, until it became absolutely prohibitive in the case of some of the very large estates which are such a blot upon the landscape of Australia today. I would graduate the tax in such a way that it would be impossible for any man in Australia to enjoy the luxury of being a landlord of a hundred, or, perhaps, a thousand tenants, and in such a way as to make land available for the use of the people who need it. But, apart from the merits of any scheme of land taxation, let me confine myself, in my concluding words, to the proposal that I first enunciated, for a tax of id. in the £1, which would bc sufficient to provide old-age pensions, on the. basis of the New South Wales system. There is no land-owner, large or small, on whom the imposition of such a tax would be an intolerable burden. Indeed, it would be a very small burden on most people, and as my proposal exempts land up to ^300 in value, the poorer classes of land-owners would not have to pay anything. As the land of this country has derived its chief value from the presence of population, and the exercise of industry by the population generally, it is only fair that the land-owners should return a little of the value that -has fallen into their pockets, in order to insure that the concluding years of the lives of our aged people shall be free from the misery induced by the fear of poverty, and in some cases from actual starvation. An old-age pensions system would make the lives of the old pioneers of this country brighter and happier; and I am satisfied that if this Parliament takes" up that task, it will do a work which will redound to the advantage and the credit of Australia.

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