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Thursday, 7 August 1930

Senator LAWSON (Victoria) . - I find myself in complete agreement with what the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has said. At 6 a.m. on the con- eluding day of the session, after the experience of the past few days, one is in the mood to ask - quoting from a well-known play - "Aren't we all?" Yet it seems inevitable in the conduct of parliamentary proceedings to have these end-of-session rushes. The measures that are left for consideration during the concluding hours of the session are usually those of paramount importance, relating as they do to finance. Finance is the serious problem with which the country has to grapple, and in our existing economic circumstances it would be folly for the Senate to involve itself in a constitutional struggle with another place. Although the power of request is exceedingly strong, and the Senate's power to reject is unabated, nevertheless the responsibility rests on the Government to balance the budget, and the popular conception is that the power of the purse resides with the other chamber. In these circumstances we must, I presume, content ourselves with expressing our hostility to this legislation, our disapprobation of the haste which has attended its introduction, and such sympathy as we must have with the unfortunate community which is staggering under and bewildered by its introduction. The number of bills brought down, and their complexities, make it difficult to understand the proposals of the Government. I cannot say that I have received as many communications as Senator

Pearce has exhibited to the chamber, but all honorable senators have received telegrams and letters urging them to, vote against these bills.. We must assume, however, that these correspondents have not a due appreciation of the responsibility of Parliament to balance the budget. The Minister has been good enough to supply honorable senators with a list of the additional exemptions made as the result of the consideration of these measures in another place, but I have received a telephone communication from the secretary of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria drawing attention to an anomaly which has been created by one of the amendments that have been made. Under the measure as originally introduced, goods sold by State government departments were exempt from taxation.' After discussion it was decided to remove that exemption, and on the whole I presume its removal is quite fair, because a State which is engaged in trading should have tax levied on the sales value of the goods it sells equally with its competitors. Under the original provision, brown coal briquettes manufactured by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria would clearly have been exempt. Primary produce being exempt, coal being such a product, is exempt; but the briquettes, which are brown coal pressed into a convenient shape and size, and with the. moisture removed, would probably be ruled on technical grounds to be not a primary product. I understand that the Government of Victoria has been in communication with the Commonwealth Government on this point, and I have had an opportunity to confer with the Minister regarding it. I hope that he will be able to suggest an amendment which will remove the anomaly to which I have drawn attention, so that the briquettes made by this State instrumentality will not be put on an unfair competitive basis with coal.

Senator Daly - I have made inquiries since the honorable senator made his representations to me, and I can inform him that briquettes will be exempt.

Senator LAWSON - I thank the Government for that. It is inevitable that this tax will increase the cost of living. At any rate it will prevent any downward tendency in the cost of living.

Senator Daly - The sales tax u the fairest system of tax that could be devised.

Senator LAWSON - It will not be paid by the wholesaler or the manufacturer if cither can pass it on. I have not the heart to detain the Senate long at this hour. Honorable senators have been sitting continuously for a long time, and it is impossible for a chamber, physically fatigued and mentally tired, to give to the consideration of these measures the close attention which their importance demands, or to function efficiently as a chamber of review. We are not able to scrutinize the proposals that come before us with the care which we usually devote to any legislation submitted to us. Already to-night we have passed ten bills through all stages. We must reduce the cost of primary production. Senator Pearce has already dealt with the sales taxation of agricultural implements, and has pointed out the anomalies that will be created by the application of the tax on the hire-purchase system. The great bulk of the agricultural machinery is sold on hire purchase, and the tax will, therefore, add to the burdens of the primary producer. I hope that the Minister will determine the position of vessels. I was glad to hear from him that a measure of relief would be afforded in regard to them.

The following is a telegram I have received :-

Softgoods section Melbourne Chamber of Commerce strongly urges that provision be included in Sales Tax Act making it compulsory to state separately on every invoice the amount of the tax. We understand this is in accordance with the Canadian act on which the bill now before Parliament has been modelled.

Senator Daly - The opinion of Mr. E. M. Mitchell, K.C., is against that course.

Senator LAWSON - Apparently it would be unconstitutional to do as requested. I am afraid that the Government will bump into many other constitutional troubles in the administration of the act.

Senator Daly - I think we have successfully evaded them.

Senator LAWSON - If so it has been extremely clever. Here is another telegram I have received -

Melbourne seed trade strongly urge imported seeds exempt sales tax. First necessity all primary producers and there is urgent need national extension permanent pastures and greater supply foodstuffs and replenishment fodder reserve depleted by drought.

I notice that Australian-grown seeds are exempt. I do not know what the Minister can do in regard to the request of the seed trade. The following is an extract from a letter written by the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures: -

The effect of the bill as submitted will produce many complications and discriminations and will be seriously detrimental to the manufacturing industries. If it were necessary that such a tax should be imposed it should have been on the retail sales, in which case a lower rate of tax would only have been required on account of collection on higher sales value, and if such could be brought about it would remove many difficult positions that will necessarily arise.

Another gentleman writes - " The bill ought to be killed ; shot at dawn ". "If we cannot get the bill killed," he says, " we want salt to be free, as it is the basis of most food trades, besides being used on the land very largely. The quantity sold in grocery shops is small compared with that used in meat works, butchers' shops and bakeries."

I understand that semolina is exempt, and it is suggested to me that wheatmeal flakes, flavoured or compressed, made in Australia, should be exempt.

A very contentious subject is "cakes and pastry ". I understand that under the Canadian system both are exempt. The Chamber of Catering Industries, Melbourne, writes asking that cakes should, be exempted.

I submit these matters at this stage -so, that the Minister may have an opportunity to consider them. I reiterate what has been said so well by Senator Pearce, that responsibility for this legislation is not on this chamber. It is true that we have the power to reject the bills, but in existing circumstances I do not see that we would be justified in assuming the responsibility of throwing out the financial proposals of the Government. It is true that we have a majority, but as things are we should not be justified in using that strength tyrannically. We therefore say to the Government, " These are your proposals. You must take the responsibility for them." We cannot accept the responsibility of rejecting them, making confusion worse confounded, and throwing the finances of the country into absolute chaos and disorder.

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