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Tuesday, 25 September 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - The Bill we are now called upon to consider is one of the most extraordinary that ever emanated from any Government south of the line - or north of it, either. It is proposed, instead of defraying the entire expenditure of the country, to earmark certain revenues for a particular purpose. I do not know whether that has ever been done in "a civilized country or not. But if it has been done, it is something to which I do not think the people of Australia ought to be asked to agree. It is not proposed to defray the cost of the defence services by means of special duties. Why, then, should we be asked to provide in this way a fund for old-age pensions? Of all things under the sun, why should they be singled out for the application of a vicious principle of that character? The States Governments, administer many Departments, but they have never dreamed of imposing a particular tax to defray the cost of, for instance, education. Every item of expenditure is paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, as it ought to be, and that is a principle from which I trust the Senate will never consent to depart.

Senator Guthrie - Some States make endowments for education.

Senator STEWART - That is quite a different thing from "a special tax. I do not believe in endowments or anything of that kind. I believe that if the expenditure is legitimate it ought to be defrayed out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Senator McGregor - But the State Government is not hamperedby a Braddon section

Senator STEWART - True,and the Federal Government is not hampered In this instance by the Braddon section. It is only pure cowardice which has driven Ministers to propose this unworthy and undesirable expedient to the Parliament. I do not know whether wry honorable friend intends to support it, but, if he does, I have no intention to follow his lead.

Senator McGregor - That does not matter. The honorable senator has not often done that. He has a new leader.

Senator STEWART - I have the only leader I have ever had, and that is the Labour platform. I do not acknowledge any other leader, either inside or outside the Senate. I must confess that the Government, with a cunning worthy of a better cause, has endeavoured to place every democrat in the Chamber in a most difficult position. The Government faas said to itself, "These fellows are pledged to oldage pensions. They are also pledged to oppose a tax on tea and kerosene. We will induce them by offering the bribe of an old-age pensions scheme to depart from their principles with regard to taxation." It is a very cunningly devised scheme, I might almost say that it is cruel in its cunning, because it puts senators like myself in a most peculiar and difficult position. Here I am offered for my constituents something for which I have been clamouring for years. When, on the" one hand, I think of the thousands of old pioneers who are spread all over the Continent, and of the benefit which old-age pensions would be to them, I must say that the inducement to desert my principles in the present instance is verv strong. But when, on the ether hand, I think of the manner in which. not only I, but almost every other member of the Labour Party swaggered up and down every corner of the country, telling the people how we had abolished the duties on tea and kerosene, I do not think that I can swallow a tax on those articles, even with a dash, of old-age pensions thrown in. I am distinctly opposed to the imposition of special duties for any public purpose. But, even if we are to adopt that principle, it is most improper to propose to derive a fund for an old-age pensions scheme from a tax on such articles as tea and kerosene. What is the purpose of such a scheme? The rich do not want it; the middle class do not want it; and, probably, a fair proportion of the working classes are not very much in need of it. It is really for the benefit of the very poorest in our midst that it is proposed to be estalished. I believe that a pension should be the right of every citizen, rich or poor. A scheme of that character is not proposed at the present moment, and, therefore, it need not be discussed. Our object now is to provide for the very poor. Are we to provide for them by authorizing the taxgatherer to dip his hand into their cup of tea, almost the only comfort which they have?

Senator Playford - Let the honorable senator try some of them with beer.

Senator STEWART - In this connexion I am forcibly reminded of something which I read about two individuals named Dives and Lazarus. I read that Dives was found dining off a fat goose while Lazarus was below the table eating the crumbs.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator's scripture is rather shaky.

Senator STEWART - It will do for the present occasion. Just imagine the taxgatherer going along and levying tribute from the poor wretch who was eating the crumbs, and allowing the man who was feasting on the goose to escape, scot free ! That is exactly the position in which the Government desire to place us. They propose to tax the very poorest persons in the community, so as to give them pensions. Not content with taxing their cup of tea, the Government swoop down upon their kerosene. I wonder very much why they did not also propose to tax their candles and their slush-lamp.

Senator Findley - And their matches, too.

Senator STEWART - Yes. So far as I can discover there is no enormity of which the Government are not capable in this connexion. We know perfectly well that kerosene, as a light, is largely used by those who live in the bush. "Under the Bill it is not proposed to tax any one of the many conveniences which are enjoyed by those who live in the city, such as, for instance, gas and electricity. But it is proposed to tax the kerosene of the very poorest persons who live in the bush. Of course, tea is an article of very general consumption. If our working people take the advice of certain medical experts, who have told us that tea is one of the most unhealthy articles which can possibly be drunk, then the consumption will be very much less in the near future than it is. When that position comes about where will the Government find funds for old-age pensions? Will Ministers, throw some light on that aspect of the question? Is there anything permanent about a duty on tea? We have been told time and again that in the very near future kerosene will be out of the running as an illuminant.

Senator Playford - Spirit will come in.

Senator STEWART - Will the Government then levy 'a tax on spirit or whatever the source of light may be ?

Senator McGregor - But this is not a Bill to tax kerosene.

Senator Turley - It is a Bill to tax anything that is not already taxed.

Senator STEWART - We havebeen told that the object of the Government is to impose a tax on tea and kerosene for the purpose of providing funds for a scheme of old-age pensions.

Senator Playford - We have never said that.

Senator Clemons - What else can it be?

Senator Playford - Those are duties which have been mentioned.

Senator STEWART - I do not intend to give the Government authority to levy any taxes until I know what they are to be.

Senator Playford - But the Government cannot levy any taxes unless the Parliament approves of them.

Senator STEWART - I am not prepared to give the Government the power asked for until I know what articles are to be taxed. Suppose that during the election campaign I were to go out and ask the people to vote for this Bill, and I were asked this question, " Upon what articles does the Government propose to levy a duty ?" I could only say, " I do not know." What kind of answer would that be to give to the electors? The Government ought to take them into its confidence.

Senator Clemons - That is exactly the kind of answer which the Government has given to us.

Senator STEWART - Yes. The Government will not tell us what articles it intends to tax. I wonder whether it really knows or not. I intend to oppose the Bill in the first place because it proposes a very distinct departure from the compact which was entered into by the acceptance of the Constitution Bill, and that was that of the Customs and Excise revenue three-fourths were to be returned to the States. I in tend, so far as I am concerned, to stick to that bargain until the time mentioned in the Constitution arrives; and if I have the honour of a seat in the Senate at that period, I shall vote for the abolition of what is known as the " Braddon blot," unless I get some better light on the subject in the meantime. I put in that reservation. I object to this proposal on another ground - that I am utterly opposed to any increase of taxation through the Customs. I think it is a scandalous thing that three-fourths of our Commonwealth taxation should be levied by means of Customs and Excise duties, and only one-fourth by direct means.

Senator Findley - The proposed taxes are utterly at variance with protectionist principles.

Senator STEWART - Yes; both of them are purely revenue duties. I have hundreds of times in my constituency objected to more Customs duties being imposed, and wherever I. have gone what I. urged has been received with favour by the' great majority of those who are responsible for my presence in the Senate. I have no doubt that some people will take me to task for putting an obstruction in the way of an old-age pensions scheme being carried. I cannot help it. I am not going to do evil that good may come. There are vast virgin areas of taxation not yet touched by the hand of the tax-gatherer. I invite the Government to exploit that region, instead of dipping its hand into the tea-pot of the poor, and filching away some portion of their earnings. Let the Government do something to break up the land monopoly that is strangling Australian progress. Let them find money for old-age pensions by that means.

Senator de Largie - That is a long way off.

Senator STEWART - It will remain a long way off until we do something to bring it nearer. If we carry this proposal, instead of bringing it nearer, we may put it still further off. Every democrat, every labour man, ought absolutely to refuse to assist the Government to find funds in this fashion. If the Government wishes to establish an old-age pensions scheme, let it find funds in a proper manner. There are many ways in which money can be obtained ; and, as I have pointed out, if it is at all permissible to impose duties for the purpose of paying old-age pensions, we ought not to go to the poor, butto the accumulated wealth of the country. I think I have made my position sufficiently clear. I intend to vote against the second reading of the measure. If the motion is carried, I intend in Committee to move an amendment giving power to retain from the money paid to the States their proportion of the cost of old-age pensions.

Debate (on motion by Senator Dobson) adjourned.

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