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Wednesday, 26 September 1906

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - At this hour I do not propose to do more than briefly indicate the reasonwhy I am opposed to this Bill. I shall not follow the example of Senator McGregor by importing a great deal of heat into the few remarks I have to make, nor will I make any personal remarks. It has been said that there is a need for an amendment of the Constitution in order to provide a fund to pay old-age pensions. That is the only excuse put forward for this Bill. There has not been a single member of the Government Party or of the Labour Party who has supported the Bill who has not putthat forward as the only excuse for the passing of the measure and its submission to the people. That is an absolutely incorrect view to take, because there is no necessity to amend the Constitution in order to enable the Commonwealth to provide a fund for old-age pensions. We have unlimited power of taxation.

Senator McGregor - Why has not the honorable senator got the money long ago?

Senator GIVENS - In the short time I have been here I have done my best to bring the question prominently before the Senate. I made it a feature of my remarks in discussing the Appropriation Bill last year.

Senator McGregor - What is the use of the honorable senator bringing on the question when he knows that it cannot be carried ?

Senator GIVENS - If that line of reasoning is correct, what is the use of a reform party coming into existence at all? Like an infant, a minority must creep before it walks. It is only by years of strenuous struggle that any reform can be brought about, and I do not think that there is any one here who recognises that fact better than does the honorable senator.

Senator McGregor - But I am not prepared to wait for four or five years to get it put through.

Senator GIVENS - I wish to state briefly why, in my opinion, this referendum should not be taken. I have always been strongly and irrevocably opposed to increasing the burden of indirect taxation. It has been my ideal, if I possibly could, to always reduce the amount of indirect taxation which the people are called upon to pay, because I recognise, as I think most members of the Labour Party do, that it is the greatest engine which the wealthy and privileged class have for placing an undue burden upon the shoulders of the poor, and freeing themselves from the responsibility which should rightly be borne by them. It will be remembered by every student of history that indirect taxation is of comparatively modern growth. In olden days in the United Kingdom there was no such thing as indirect taxation. The land bore the whole burden of taxation. Every landowner held his land in fee from the Crown, and he had to provide a certain amount of revenue for the Crown, and to maintain men-at-arms always ready to fight on behalf of the Crown, and in defence of the country. As industries spread, as population increased, as society became a little more complex, the landowners began to see that if they could induce the poorer people to pay taxation, they could free their own shoulders from a burden. What was the consequence? They knew that the people could be robbed while they were asleep, without their knowledge, by imposing indirect taxation. I think that every member of the Labour Party will agree with me that that is a fair statement of the- case.

Senator McGregor - It is not we whom the honorable senator has to convince on that point. He ought to try to convince his other friends.

Senator GIVENS - When the honorable senator was speaking just now he addressed most of his remarks to Senator Turley, Senator Stewart, and myself, and therefore I think I am entitled to show him that we, at any rate, have some justification for the course we propose to take. From that date until now the burden of indirect taxation has been continually increasing, and the people to whom the burden rightly belongs are enjoying an immunity. They are escaping their due and just share of the taxation. We - a party which do not believe in indirect taxation - are asked, because an excuse is put forward that the money is required for a purpose which we favour, to weaklyconsent not only to an expansion of the system of indirect taxation, but to the breaking of the Constitution in order to accomplish that end.

Senator McGregor - No.

Senator GIVENS - If we, who have certain ideals and aspirations, weakly agree to increase a source of taxation which we condemn, then we shall cut the ground from under our own feet, and never accomplish; the reform which we set out to secure. It is only stern necessity which will ever force the hand of a Government to resort to direct taxation. So long as they can get money easily through the Customs-house, so long as they can rob the people while asleep by means of indirect taxation, so long will they refrain from imposing direct taxation,

Senator McGregor - And so long will they keep the honorable senator from getting a system of old-age pensions established.

Senator GIVENS - They will not keep the people from getting that boon a single day longer than they are determined that it shall be granted. In taking up this position we are strengthening the hands of the people.

Senator Stewart - We are playing right into their hands,.

Senator GIVENS - Yes. Who is to be asked to provide the money for old-age pensions? Is it proposed to compel those who derive a benefit from the pioneering of the old people, to compensate them for their years of toil and strenuous striving on behalf of the country? Undoubtedly not. It is proposed to raise the money from the poor people themselves.

Senator Findley - It will be the people who will compel themselves to find the money if they vote in f avour of the Bill.

Senator Stewart - Why should we submit a proposal of this kind to the electors ?

Senator Findley - I am prepared to submit everything to them, because I believe in the principle of the referendum.

Senator GIVENS - If we are always going to shelter ourselves behind the referendum

Senator Findley - Hear, hear.

Senator GIVENS - I believe in the referendum, but I think I can show the honorable senator that, there are a great many questions which he would not vote to refer to the people for decision.

Senator Findley - That may be; but I am in favour of this referendum.

Senator GIVENS - Will the honorable senator extend to me the liberty to think that this is not a proper measure to submit to the people? What would be the position if the Bill were passed. We should be entering upon an act of repudiation. The Constitution, which was accepted by the people, clearly sets out in section 87, as a bond between the States, that for ten years-

Senator Guthrie - Unless it is altered.

Senator GIVENS - To remove all doubt, I will read section 87 of the Constitution -

During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and Excise, not more than onefourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure. The balance shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be paid to the several States or applied towards the payment of interest on debts of the several States taken over by the 'Commonwealth.

Senator Guthrie - There is a provision for the alteration of theConstitution.

Senator GIVENS - Of course there is; but no one ever supposed that a bond entered into for a definite number of years would be attempted to be altered before that term had expired. To abrogate that condition before the expiration of the time would be a distinct act of repudiation. The Premiers' Conference was utterly opposed to this being done. The Premier of Queensland, for instance, very strongly opposed it. Not that I am disposed to place too much reliance on what the States Premiers say in their Conferences.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator only quotes them when it suits his purpose.

Senator GIVENS - What I mean is that a statement made at a Premiers' Conference should not have an overwhelming influence upon the minds of honorable senators in coming to a conclusion. But I do say that, having entered into a contract for ten years, we have no right to alter it before that term has expired.

Senator Guthrie - It was made subject to alteration.

Senator GIVENS - When the honorable senator, as the capable officer of the Seamens' Union, enters into a contract with ship-owners for a certain length of time, does he expect them to break it before that time expires? After the expiration of the time fixed, we can make any arrangement we please.

Senator Playford - And in the meantime we can alter the Constitution if we like.

Senator GIVENS - I maintain that it is a distinct act of repudiation to alter it in this respect. The Commonwealth should be extremely careful before it sanctions anything of the land. Let me point out also what this indirect taxation means. Those who have studied Commonwealth statistics will agree with me that the amount which, on an average, each individual contributes in Customs and Excise duties to the revenue of Australia amounts to about £2 3s. Let us say, in round figures, that it amounts to £2 per head of the population. What does that mean to a working man who has a wife and two children to support? It means that he contributes £8 per annum to the revenue. Most of the working men whom I know do not, on an average, earn more than £2 per week. In fact, I doubt whether they earn as much. It means, therefore, that a man who is earning £2 per week has to contribute-no less than four weeks' work per annum to the revenue of the country.

Senator Playford - It depends on whether He is a teetotaller or a smoker.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister will remember that I have deducted 3s. from the average contribution per head, so as to be on the safe side. Now, what does a man with an income of £1,000 per annum contribute? A simple calculation will show that he does not contribute one week's income towards the government of the country. Where is the equality of sacrifice? Looked at in every possible way, it will be seen how unequal the contribution is. Moreover, the man who has an income of £1,000 per annum derives far greater advantages from government than does the man who earns only £2 a week. Much of the cost of government is incurred by maintaining and administering the law and Law Courts, which are chiefly occupied in hearing cases and filing records referring to disputes about property, and administering the law relating to property. The man who has to contribute four weeks' work per annum towards the cost of government has no reason to avail himself of many of the agencies which the State maintains. Let honorable senators look at the matter in another light, and they will see how much worse the position of the working man is. Every one will remember that there has been a great outcry about the need for more population in Australia. There has also been an outcry about the diminishing birth rate. What do we do by means of our Customs and Excise duties ?

Senator McGregor - Why did not the honorable senator " stone- wall." the spirit duties if he considered that they were so unfairto the working classes?

Senator GIVENS - The honorable senator professes to be a protectionist, but he does not seem to understand the first principles of protection. A protective Tariff, carried to its logical conclusion, will bring in no revenue. There has been a great outcry about the low birth-rate and the need of population ; but, when we tax everything that the people, eat, use, or wear, we tax a main for every additional child he has, whereas the man without children - who, indeed, may be an absentee - escapes scot free. Where is the logic, justice, or fairness in such a policy?

Yet honorable senators, with sophistical arguments, endeavour to justify an increase of the burden of indirect taxation. It is monstrous that in the twentieth century we have not a more enlightened idea of how to raise revenue than that embodied in this outworn system. The taxes contemplated in the Bill will, if imposed, be unjust in their incidence. Why should there not be a tax on the electric light and on gas? The main, in the back country, who, in his, pioneering, exploring, and producingworks, is bearing the heat and burden of the day, will have to pay a tax on his kerosene, whereas the man in the town, who has sim ply to turn on the gas tap or touch the electric button, escapes. Tea is one of the necessaries of life of the poor people. In the bush there is not the choice of cocoa or coffee, and, very often, there is no milk; all that can be obtained is tea, and yet it is proposed to impose a duty of 5d. or 6d. a lb. on this commodity. To do this we are asked to amend the Constitution, while, as a matter of fact, if we had the courage to insist, there is ample power, without any amendment, to raise more than sufficient to pay all the old-age pensions that will ever be required in the Commonwealth. So long as we palter with the question, and are weak enough to acquiesce in anything which the Government propose, so long shall we delay reform.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator isdelaying old-age pensions.

Senator GIVENS - I am not. The vast majority of the members of both Chambers, when before their constituencies, expressed themselves in favour of old-age pensions. They did not say thatthey were in favour of providing old-age pensions when the Braddon section ceased to operate, ' or when there had been an alteration of the Constitution, but that they were in favour of pensions here and now. Not only the members of the LabourParty. but a majority of the members of other parties, said that they were in favour of an old-age pension scheme at. once; and the only thing lacking is the courage to insist on a scheme. If we had set our energies to work in the right direction, instead of frittering our strength over a lot of paltry questions, we mighthave accomplished a great deal more. At this late hour, I shall not detain the Senate longer than tosay that I am opposed to the Bill root and branch, because, in my opinion, it perpetuates an evil system. I am prepared on any platform in any part of Australia to justify the position I now take up. I am perfectly certain that the people of Australia, especially the poor people who have been demanding justice for so long, will recognise the soundness of the contention of Senator Stewart, SenatorTurley. andmyself.

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