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Wednesday, 26 September 1906

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - There is no place in which one realizes the truth of the old saying, "Many men,' many minds," so much as in a House of Parliament. I find that the very reasons that have been urged against this measure are those which induce me to support it. I am not going to quarrel with my honorable friends who take a different view. I admit that there is room for difference of opinion on the subject, though I cannot make the same admission with regard to every question, in which some of my honorable friends are interested. For years past I have cherished the hope that it would be possible to find sufficient money for purposes of old-age pensions by means of a tax upon theunimproved value of land. I have not yet abandoned that hope. It is still possible to realize it. But, the longer I am in this Parliament, the more fully I become acquainted with parliamentary procedure, and realize how slowly the political machine moves - how it can be prevented from moving at all, how it often moves in, the wrong direction, and frequently in avery erratic way - the more the probability of realizing, my hopes within a reasonable time seems to diminish. It is for that reason that I feel impelled to vote tor a measure which. I believe is brought in for the purpose of finding at least some of the money that is necessary to provide an old-age pensions scheme. I should feel that I was doing a wrong to the old and well-deserving poor of this country if I were to vote against a Bill which certainly offers a possible chance of securing the measure that they have been so long waiting for. At both the elections which I have contested in Western Australia I have advocated the establishment of ah old-age pensions scheme by the Federal Government. Owing to the effect of the " Braddon blot," which, still has some time to run, the Commonwealth Parliament is restricted in its means of financing an old-age pensions scheme. As for the prospects of land taxation, even the moderate scheme propounded by the party to which I belong would not. if it were in working order, yield sufficient revenue to provide the fund that we require. When I find that even the most advanced party in politics does not advocate a system of land taxation which, if it were in operation tomorrow, would suffice for the purpose, I are compelled to turn to other sources of revenue to consummate the object that I have in view. I was very pleased when, a few years ago, I had an, opportunity in the Senate to vote against a tax which it was proposed to levy upon tea. Upon that occasion some of those who are now opposing this Bill voted for a tea duty. Why? To raise revenue to be devoted to general purposes. There is a great difference between a vote such as I am about to give on this Bill, with the ultimate object of permitting a tax to be imposed on tea for old-age pensions purposes, and a vote for such a tax for the purposes of the general revenue. But I question very much whether, after all that has been said about the advantage of allowing tea to be imported duty free, the consumers are getting the benefit of free tea. I believethat a great deal of the profit is finding its way into the pockets of the tea merchants, and that we are to a considerable extent losing revenue, while the consumer is no better off.

Senator Turley - But the consumergets a better duality of tea for the same price.

Senator DE LARGIE - That is a very debatable point, and I think that the women-folk of the Commonwealth would tell the honorable senator a different story.

Senator Millen - Is that why Senator de Largie voted against the tea duty on the previous occasion?

Senator DE LARGIE - I voted against the tea duty on a previous occasion because I thought the whole of the benefit would go to the consumer.

Senator Stewart - So it does. The tea merchants would prefer a duty.

Senator DE LARGIE - I think I could quote tea merchants who are of quite a different opinion. However, that is a question on which we might argue all night without arriving at any conclusion. But, at the same time, I am inclined to think that the benefit of free_tea goes to the merchant, and not to the consumer. According to the figures collected by the Royal Commission on old-age pensions, Western Australia would not derive any benefit from the duties which are contemplated. The people of that State would have to tax themselves to the extent of f,z for every £1 spent on old-age pensions, because, while a sum of something like £75,000 would be collected on the tea and kerosene duties, only about £40,000 would be required for old-age pensions in that State. I do not vote for this Bill with any parochial motives, but simply because I believe it to be in the interests of the deserving poor of the whole of the Commonwealth. We are now considering the question of a tax on a foodstuff, because tea mav be regarded as one of the necessaries of life. According to the Budget papers, I find that at the present time a considerable amount of revenue is derived from duties on foodstuffs, and that that revenue is used for general purposes, not one of which can be described as more worthy than that contemplated by this Bill. In the case of sugar alone we tax ourselves to the extent of £122,000; in the case of agricultural products to the extent of £750,000: and in the case of apparel and so forth to the extent of £ 1. soo. 000. Amongst agricultural products are included butter, cheese, coffee, biscuits, eggs, jams, milk, potatoes, and so forth : and the money derived from the duties is devoted to every imaginable public purpose.

Senator Clemons - How much revenue is collected on butter?

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not propose to wade through this mass of figures in order to reply to that question. All these articles are necessaries of life; and yet the people of Australia have to pay duties on them.

Senator Clemons - Suppose it be suggested that the duty on butter, instead of duties on tea and kerosene, be devoted to old-age pensions?

Senator DE LARGIE - That would make no difference in the principle. A great amount of crocodile sympathy has been expended on the poor who will have to pav the tea duty. Senator Clemons, in indignant tones, asked us whether it was fair to tax the poor man, to whom we are going to pay old-age pensions. But if a man were receiving a pension of ios. a week, what amount of duty would he pay on the half-pound of tea he would consume ?

Senator Clemons - I asked the honorable senator to justify his action.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am prepared to justify the vote I intend_to give; and it is just as easy to justify a duty on tea as_ a duty on any of the articles I have mentioned. We spend a great deal of our revenue on defence, and surely no one will say that that is a more worthy object than the care of our aged poor. I felt that I could not- give a consistent vote on this important matter, especially after the debate we have had this afternoon. If I voted against the 'possibility of securing pensions for the poor people, who have so long expected them, I should have some difficulty in justifying my action. Some honorable senators have said that they are prepared to wait until the Commonwealth can find the necessary money bv means of direct taxation; but it is very easy to take up a heroic attitude of that kind while the poor fellow outside is doing the suffering. We have now an opportunity to do something for the aged poor; and the Bill shall have mv support.

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