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, 19 December 1905

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) - The speeches I have heard from honorable senators opposite strengthen me in the belief that I should consent to agree to the modification of our amendment proposed by the House of Representatives. I have never argued that we should derive increased revenue from sugar, and when I hear honorable senators urging that we should reject the modification because It would involve a loss of revenue, that is to me a sufficient reason for accepting it. If we genuinely desire to raise less revenue from sugar, we are here given an opportunity to do so, because we shall undoubtedly have an opportunity to revise the Tariff before the term dealt with in these Bills comes to an end, and this proposal will supply a good argument for reducing the import duty on sugar. That will lessen the return to the States Treasurers, and will tend to bring about more quickly what Senator Stewart has indicated, namely, land taxation. I shall support the modification proposed by the House of Representatives in this instance, and when the Customs Tariff comes up for revision I shall be prepared to assist honorable senators opposite in decreasing the import duty on sugar correspondingly, so as to give the same amount of protection and at the same time decrease the taxation of the people upon this item of food which Senator Dobson will admit is not as legitimate a subject of taxation as is the unimproved value of land.

Senator Dobson - Land is taxed.

Senator PEARCE - Senator Dobson must' know that land is not taxed, but this is not the time to discuss that question. The argument that this involves a loss of revenue to the States confirms me in the opinion that the right course for me to adopt is to support the modification proposed by the House of Representatives.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - Senator Pearce has raised once again the point dealt with by Senator Stewart. He imagines that in reducing revenue in this way we shall be 'reducing the taxation of the people. I am prepared at any time to accept any proposal that will have the effect of reducing taxation, but there is no proposal to reduce taxation now before the Committee. The proposal before us keeps up the taxation, but hands the product of it to a greater extent to the industry itself. I am satisfied that that is not a policy which commends itself to the judgment of Senator Pearce, and therefore I cannot understand that he should be willing to accept the proposal now before the Committee.

Senator Pearce - Will Senator Pulsford support a reduction of the import duty ?

Senator PULSFORD - Of course I will.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales). - The contention of Senator Pearce is that it it is a question of revenue it can be adjusted by lowering the import duty on sugar at a future date.

Senator Pearce - At the date when this Excise duty will begin to decrease.

Senator MILLEN - When the honorable senator voted with the Opposition yesterday on the Sugar Bounty Bill he knew that the possibility of reviewing the Customs Tariff was just the same then as it is now, whatever it may be worth, but that did not in any way deter him from taking the course which he mapped out for himself, and which was to join with us, who thought that we should put a period to the time for the payment of the bonus to the sugargrowers, and adopt a system for gradually withdrawing from them the financial support which the Commonwealth had hitherto extended. What is the proposal which he now submits ? He recants all that he said yesterday, and comes forward as the advocate of a proposal which, instead of giving the sugar-growers less, is to give them more.

Senator Pearce - Incorrect !

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator can say anything he likes, so long as it is in order ; but there is no getting away from the fact that yesterday he voted to give a total bonus of 30s. per ton during a period of six years, instead of five years, as the Government proposed, and with the full knowledge that the Excise Tariff Bill provided for the collection of a duty of 4s. a year. Having voted to give a bonus of 30s. during the period of six years, and the bonus not having been disturbed in any way, he now proposes to help to cut down the amount of the Excise duty.

Senator Pearce - And to lower the amount of the import duty.

Senator MILLEN - It is a sham and a fraud to put a possible reduction of the Customs duty down as a compensation for the larger measure of relief which is given in this Bill. Although we adopted a sliding scale, still we did not reduce the total amount of the bonus ; but the effect of the so-called sliding scale with the Excise is to reduce the amount collected. It means that, while we have not made a reduction of the amount we put into the grower's pocket, it is proposed to reduce the amount to be taken out of it. That is tantamount to giving a larger measure of financial help to the growers. For any honorable senator to say that we can equalize that by a possible amendment of the import duty at a. future date,, can only be described as an effort to mislead, not the Committee, but himself. What are the prospects of our dealing with the Customs Tariff?Senator Pearce knows perfectly well that when it is brought to the Senate, he and others who now vote with him will separate. He will not have the Government's help then, nor will he bein a position to help them.

Senator Pearce - Shall I have the help of the Opposition ?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, on that matter.

Senator Pearce - What about the loss of revenue to the States Treasurers, of which we have heard so much ?

Senator MILLEN - It is inevitable that the State Treasurers will lose an enormous amount as the result of the enactment of the Sugar Bounty Bill. I hesitate to say how much they will lose, but I believe that I am well within the mark in saying that from£750,000 to . £1,000,000 will not be in excess of the amount which they will lose during its operation. The chief fact to be remembered is that that enormous sum is to be withdrawn from the use of the States Governments, in order to be put directly into the pockets of the sugar-growers. Let me now consider what will be the further effect of the modification which is now suggested. It is somewhat difficultto say what the exact amount will be, because there appears to be a discrepancy in the figures supplied by the Minister, but it is quite clear that the difference between the two systems will be 3s. 4d. a ton per year. I do not know the actual production of sugar in Queensland, but it is quite evident that we are asked to take another sum of . £50,000 or £60,000 from the States Treasurers for the benefit of the sugar-growers. Noone, not even Senator Pearce, has ventured to offer a, reason why we should give them more than we were asked yesterday to give them. Yet, for some unexplained and unexpressed reason, the Minister has asked us to-night to make this additional grant, and honorable senators become rather indignant because we are not prepared to immediately fall in with the suggestion. Why should we throw £50,000 more into the industry when no one has shown that it is in need of further assistance?

Senator Pulsford - It will be more than £50,000.

Senator MILLEN - It is probable that my honorable friend is correct, but, taking my estimate, I submit that , £50,000 is an enormous sum to give away in excess of the amount which the Government contended, was necessary. Can the Government give any reason for making this proposal? May I ask those who are familiar with sugar-growing in Queensland, to say whether, after it has enjoyed a bonus for eleven years, the industry is likely to fail, unless it receives this increased assistance? Because, if so, the sooner we shall be brought face to face with the fact that the longer we extend the assistance, the greater will be the demand for increasing it. Apart from this proposal, however, it is somewhat appalling to me that honorable senators should be quite content to vote away these enormous sums without even asking whether it is! justifiable. I do not remember an occasion on which public men have so lightly handled the public money as honorable senators appear to be doing. They ignore the fact that many taxpayers who are face to face with a severe struggle, in order to make a livelihood, are taxed in order to contribute to the incomes of those who are fairly well off, and are doing well. Under this proposal, we are asked to levy a tax upon the users of the poorer lands of the continent, in order to subsidize those who occupy the richest lands in Australia. In Western Australia, prospectors who, perhaps, are fossicking for a bare living, have to pay a duty on their sugar in order to subsidize the latter class. In New South Wales we have very considerable areas of wheat-growing land which' average 8 bushels to the acre, or yield a bare living as the result of hard work attended with great risk. Yet these persons are to be taxed quite unnecessarily in order' to subsidize those who occupy and use the .richest lands in Australia. Surely those who oppose this proposal are entitled to be supplied with some justification for its adoption ! When honorable senators will not venture to put forward a single argument or statement in its support, what conclusion am I forced to arrive at? It is that the proposal will not stand examination, that it is a clear attempt to defraud the Commonwealth of its revenue in a 'way which cannot be justified. Even if we are impotent to do anything, if the representatives of the State whose sugar-growers are to get the whole of this enormous sum have not a word to utter in support of the proposal, then I ask those who agree with me, to place upon record a strong protest against this attempt to deflect a large sum of public money into the pockets of the sugar-growers of Queensland.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales). - I cannot help reiterating an argument which has been adduced, and that is that we are asked to give this large sum of public money to, at the very outside, 8,000 growers of white sugar in Australia. That is, assuming that the whole of the sugar produced in Australia is grown by white labour. Dr. Maxwell's report points out that there must be 8,000 growers in Queensland to enable all the sugar now produced to 'be grown by white labour. It is proposed to give millions of pounds to 8,000 selected individuals of this community to encourage them to grow sugar. We have imposed a duty of £6 per ton to protect' them in the first instance against the outside world. There is a difference of only £1 per ton between the Excise and the bounty. There is therefore really being given under our system £5 on every ton of sugar. That amounts to 000,000 on 200,000 tons. In other words. 8,000 people engaged in the sugar industry are to be benefited to the extent of £5 per ton for all the sugar they produce. We were told by a member of a previous Parliament that one res,ult of the White Australia policy would be that the whole of the rich country along the Queensland coast would be absolutely thrown out of occupation through black labour being got rid of. But the alternative was adopted of paying a bounty to those who grow by means of white labour, with the object of keeping that country in occupation. We are now giving a handsome income to each individual engaged in this industry. If practically means that this country can afford to pay those people upwards of £100 a year each to leave the sugar industry alone". Is that reasonable? Senator Pearce says that we may shortly have an opportunity of reducing the Tariff. Probably that is so. But the honorable senator knows that every man engaged in the production of sugar will stand up for a big Customs duty, and that the representatives of those people will not be ready to cut down the duty of £6 per ton to £3 or £4. It is absurd to put that forward as a reason for agreeing to the amendment of the other House. It appears to me that) the Senate is simply playing at legislation. We make amend- ments in Bills, and as soon as another place says, " We dissent from you," we are ready to throw up the sponge, and say, " 'Very well ; we recognise that we are merely elected for the purpose of further considering measures. If we can persuade you to change your views, well and good; but if you are not to be persuaded, we have no will of our own." Is not that remark applicable to the present instance? We are now asked to consent to the amendment of another place being agreed to, and to reduce the Excise by two-thirds and one-third. I assume that the determination at which we arrived in the first instance expressed the honest opinion of the Senate. Are we prepared to cave in at discretion, simply because another place asks us to do so? Why should not Tasmania ask us to grant a bounty on , the production of apples or cherries? She has just as much

Tight to do so as the Queensland people have to ask us to forego the fair amount of difference that ought to exist between the amount of bounty which they receive and the amount of Excise they pay.

Senator Keating - The reason why Tagmania does not ask for a bounty on fruit is that1 then there would be an Excise imposed to pay it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Is the only reason for the Excise to provide a bounty to the sugar-growers?

Senator Keating - Undoubtedly.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Then why make any difference? Why not say that the Excise shall be £3, and the bounty £S per ton?

Senator Keating - Because then we could not differentiate between sugar produced by white and black labour.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Am I to understand that the object is to play off the white grower against the black grower? It is surely a very artificial means of differentiation. I presume that Senator Keating will say that if we can get rid of the black labour, he is prepared to maintain the Customs duty, and to have no Excise on sugar. But that stage cannot be reached until there is so much competition in this country as to bring down the price of locally-produced sugar. In the meantime,' it appears that we are to keep up this artificial barrier, to the detriment of every individual in the community, and of every industry that uses sugar. We might very well have allowed this matter to stand over until next session, in order to give more consideration to it. The Government itself, in its previous legislation, indicated that it desired to grant bounties, not for a period of six years, but continuously. Now Ministers have abandoned the position they took up in the first instance. I cannot understand the attitude of honorable senators who have changed their views on this matter. Where amendments which are noi vital are in dispute it is quite right that we should endeavour to compromise. But this is a vital issue. It is a matter of principle upon which we ought not to give our position away.. Senator Dobson has. indicated a compromise which might be accepted.

Senator Givens - I thought that the honorable senator said we ought not to compromise on this issue?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- There should not be a compromise on a matter of principle; but we could make an arrangement whereby the rights of the Senate would not be given away upon so important a matter. We ought to consider the position of the revenue. Some honorable senators argue that if the revenue is diminished it will force the country to land taxation. But I can assure them that land taxation is not going to be conceded to the extent that they desire. There will have to be a struggle throughout the length and breadth of this Commonwealth before anything of the kind is agreed to. If some honorable senators desire to deplete the revenue with the object of forcing forward Senator Stewart's favourite idea of a land tax, they are doing that which is absolutely improper. If we are to have land taxation, let it he determined by a fair and straight-out vote. We should not take advantage of ihe impecuniosity of the Commonwealth in order to carry out a system which every one must recognise to be repugnant to five-sixths of the people of the country. I make as, strong a protest as I can against the action of the Government in this matter, and am astonished to find that there are honorable senators who are prepared to go back upon the ideas that they expressed" in the first instance, and to reverse everything that they declared to be advisable within the last twenty-four hours.

Senator MILLEN(New South" Wales).' - There is just one point I wish to emphasize before we go to a division. I think I am justified in concluding, from the remarks of Senator Pearce, that those who supportthis proposal of the Government regard, as an alternative to it, the imposition of land taxation.I shall not enter into the merits or demerits of that system of taxation, but I desire to place it on record that those who support the reduction" of the Excise duty do so as one step towards the imposition of a land tax.

Senator Findley - And not a bad move either.

Senator MILLEN - That may be so, but I wish it to be particularly understood, especially amongst those who occupy the land, and with all their efforts are scarcely able to make a living, that there is a party in this Parliament seeking to impose a heavier burden on them, while lightening the load of those who occupy the rich sugar lands.

Senator Givens - How much are landowners taxed by land agents at the present time?

Senator MILLEN - In the case to which I understand the honorable senator to refer, the land owners were taxed just as much as they volunteered to give. When I asked Senator Pearce why the Watson Government did not seek to give effect to their land taxfaith, he replied, " Wait until the next Labour Ministry is in power." I do not regard that as a threat, but merely as a fair intimation of the policy to be put forward - as a fair intimation to the people of Australia that, so far as a big section of the Labour Party is concerned, one of their first objects, when they are again in power, will be to so adjust these duties as to necessitate a tax on freehold land.

Senator Findley - To come with a heavy thud on the earth-hungerer.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator may, if he chooses, describe the position in that picturesque, if not florid, language. I am stating the facts plainly, and, I hope, fairly, to my opponents. If this land tax is to be one of the issues at an early date, the sooner the people know the fact the better; and the information given by Senator Pearce is my justification for a statement that the motion for the reduction of the Excise duty is one step towards their goal.

Senator Findley - That object meets with the approbation of the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Senator MILLEN - When the honorable senator comes back with a thumping big majority behind him I shall say he is a true prophet; but until then I am entitled to have my own opinion as to what are the views of the majority of the electors. So far as my own State is concerned, the people there have never evinced any remarkable desire to apply the panacea of land taxation.

Senator Givens - Mr. Lonsdale and Mr. Conroy, who are members of the honorable senator's own party, are ardent advocates of land taxation.

Senator MILLEN - As one swallow does not make a summer, neither do the views of one or two members, associated with my party for other reasons, constitute the views of that party.

Senator Findley - Where will the honorable senator's party get revenue if they come into power?

Senator MILLEN - We shall get it partly from such a Bill as that which certain hon-. orable senators are now trying to undermine. I shall lose no opportunity of emphasizing what appears to be the objective of the Labour Party, viz., to so adjust our fiscal system as to make the keystone, or the foundation, direct taxation forFederal purposes. I do not know that that is an object of which the party need be ashamed ; but it supplies the reason why I regard with considerable suspicion any attempt to minimise revenue duties such as those provided by the Bill. I suggest, as the more convenient way of testing the feeling of the Committee, that Senator Dobson move that after the words " shall be " the words "three-fourths" be inserted.

Amendment withdrawn.

Amendment (by Senator Dobson) proposed -

That the House of Representatives be requested to amend the modification made by it in the Senate's request by inserting the words " threefourths" after the words "shall be."

Suggest corrections