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Thursday, 27 September 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - The further the debate proceeds the more tangling the whole business seems to become. The amendment of Senator Millen has put the Government "to the touch." It is thereby invited to declare the special purpose for which special duties are to be imposed. But the Government refused to do so. Senator Playford tells us that that aspect of the question has been considered by the Government, and that it was decided to leave the whole matter open. So that, under the guise of raising sufficient money to defray the cost of an old-age pensions scheme, the Government is really asking for a large addition to its present revenue from Customs. The Government wants power to add largely to the indirect taxation for purposes which it refuses to define. I am astonished that any honorable senator should even dream of assisting in such a pernicious project. This proposal sweeps away every one of our ideas regarding taxation. We are not told what articles the Government wishes to tax. It gives us no information. It does not say how the money is to be spent.

It merely says, " Give us carte blanche, and trust to our honesty." I am not inclined to do anything of the kind. If the Government proposes such an extraordinarydeparture from the ordinary procedure as to levy special duties for a special purpose, I want to know something about it. If we are asked to open our mouths, shut our eyes, and swallow whatever Providence may send us, I hope honorable senators will not be so foolish, as to consent. I do not like Senator Millen's amendment. I am absolutely opposed to the idea of earmarking revenue for any particular purpose. This plan revives the taxation methods of the Middle Ages. It brings us back to the time when "the people of Great Britain had the crudest ideas possible with regard to taxation, and how the government of the country should be conducted. But if the Ministry insists on thrusting its measures down my throat, I want it definitely stated in the Bill for what purpose it is to be passed. When I am driven into a corner and compelled "to accept the proposal to levy special duties, I am well within my rights in insisting upon the object for which those duties are to be levied being specified in the measure. Much, against my will, therefore, I intend to vote for Senator Millen's amendment. Let us here and now put in the Bill what the purpose of the special duties is. Then when we go before the electors we shall have something definite to tell them. Let us pin the Government down, to an old-age pensions scheme in the Bill itself. If the Government refuses to agree to the amendment, what conclusion can I draw? Indeed, Senator Playford has told us in so many words that the Government may wish to draw upon this fund for other purposes than old-age pensions. But for the bait of old-age pensions being dangled before their eyes, but for this bunch of carrots being held out before them-

Senator O'Keefe - Who are the donkeys ?

Senator STEWART - I should not like to say, but if the honorable senator feels that his ears are fairly long he may draw his own conclusion. I am sure of this - that were not this old-age pensions scheme held out to honorable senators as a bait, nine-tenths of those who are supporting the Bill would scout it and toss it out of the Senate with the slightest consideration. We have no guarantee that if Parliament .grants this power of levying additional taxation the money will be used for old-age pensions purposes. It may be wanted for penny postage or for any of a dozen schemes, of which we have not even heard. The proposal amounts to a gross breach of the compact entered into between the States on the establishment of Federation, and before we agree to it we ought to have the most absolute assurances from the Government: I have been a fairly constant supporter of theirs, and confess that I would rather support them than oppose them. But I owe a duty to my constituents, and I have my own self-respect to maintain. I intend to vote for the amendment, because if the Bill must pass I had rather that 'it passed with the amendment embodied in it; but in any case I shall vote against the third reading of the Bill.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 3.25 p.m.

Progress reported.

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