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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) .- I was very pleased to hear that the Governmnent were in favour of holding the elections at the earliest possible date. The Minister indicated the progress which is being made with the work of preparation for the elections, but he did not show that it would .not be possible to hold the el ec.tions before the date mentioned in the motion.

Mr Groom - I did not mention any particular date. It may be possible to hold the elections on the date suggested. I indicated that, and I hope that the elections may be held then. But1 I stated that it was impossible to bind /the 'Chief Electoral Officer down to any particular date.

Mr McLEAN - I think that he might be bound down to a certain limit.

Mr Groom - In giving instructions to the officers. I indicated that, if possible, arrangements should be made to enable the elections to be held not later than the middle of November.

Mr McLEAN - - I am very glad to hear that, because every honorable member who has had any experience must know that it is quite practicable to hold the elections within that time. We are all familiar with the formal matters to which the Minister has referred, and we know that they can be attended to simultaneously in all the States, and that the great distances to which reference has been made do not impose insuperable barriers to reasonable expedition. When I was at the head of the Customs Department, I used to receive telegrams, from the most remote parts of the Continent, and I must confess that I never experienced the slightest difficulty in replying, to them by wire upon the same day. Surely the same expedition can be observed in giving instructions - by wire or otherwise - to officers in different parts of the Commonwealth. If the Government desire to hold the general elections before the middle of November, we all know that it is quite possible for them to do so, and I think the necessity for doing so has been pretty well emphasized already. I have given a good deal of consideration to this matter. I am not one who would advocate the granting of facilities to farmers which are denied to any other section of the community. I merely wish, as far as it is practicable, to place the farmers upon an equality with other sections of the community. We know that in spite of anything that we may do we cannot place them upon exactly the same footing. Thev have to contend with many difficulties which are not experienced by any other class. A good deal has been said in reference to the shearers-. I am as much interested in extending to the shearers facilities to vote as I am in granting them to the farmers. But the obstacles in their case are of an altogether different character. If a shearer leaves his own State, and goes to another to pursue his avocation, there is no practical difficulty in the way of him availing himself either of the "Q" form or of the postal vote.

Mr Brown - He cannot; vote outside his own State upon a " Q " form.

Mr McLEAN - He can use the postal vote.

Mr Kennedy - But he never knows for a week ahead where he will be upon a certain day.

Mr McLEAN - He is at liberty to take out the necessary form any time after the issue of the writs.

Mr Tudor - Cannot the farmer do the same?

Mr McLEAN - No. The farmer may be within five miles of a polling booth and vet be unable to discontinue his operations in order to exercise the franchise. There is no great loss involved in the discontinuance of shearing for half a day.

Mr Kennedy - The trouble is that if a man stops operations without She consent of his employer, which is not always obtainable, he has no employment to return to after he has recorded his vote.

Mr McLEAN - I have had a good deal of experience in connexion with these matters, and I have never known a. single instance of an employer . preventing; a man whose services could be spared, from recording his vote. The difficulty with the farmer is that when his grain is ripe, he cannot incur the risk of leaving it, in order to attend the polling booth. The loss of time that would be thus occasioned is a mere trifle. His chief difficulty is the loss that he might incur by reason of the grain falling out of the ears of his crop. As a practical farmer, the honorable member for Moira knows that. He knows that the loss to which the farmer is liable is infinitely greater than that to which any other section of the community is exposed.

Mr Kennedy - There is another factor, too, which always weighs with him where employes are concerned. When they go to the polling booth, they sometimes do not return to their work.

Mr McLEAN - It is to be presumed that they do return. I hope that the honorable member is not. arguing against the interests of the farmer.

Mr Kennedy - Oh, no.

Mr McLEAN - I quite agree with the honorable member for Echuca that at the next election there may be the gravest issues involved - issues affecting the interests of the farmer in particular. For instance, if I may be permitted toreferto it, one question which is almost sure to be a prominent feature in the campaign, and one which affects the interests of the farmers vitally, is the proposal to impose an additional land tax. It appears to me that very few honorable members realize the present condition of taxation as between country and city. I will give a very simple illustration of my meaning, and one which will serve to convey to honorable members an accurate idea of what exists at the present time in Victoria. Let us assume that two brothers start life, each being worth£10,000. Let us further suppose that one embarks upon a business in the city, and that the other purchases 1 0,000 acres of land at £1 an acre. The outside rental value of that land, at 5 per cent., is £500 annually, but it would probably be much nearer 4 per cent. Assuming that the brother in the city earned £500 gross from his business, he would be called upon to pay an income tax of £5. That is the rate ruling in Victoria. But what would the country man have to pay? Out of his 10,000 acres, which are worth£1 an acre, there would be 2,500 acres exempt from taxation. The balance of 7,500 acres would bear a tax of 3d. in the£1, or 3d. per acre, which would amount to £93 15s. The local rate for making roads, not exclusively for his own use, but for that of the general public - I am taking the lowest rate prevailing in Victoria - would be , £25. His income tax on a rental of £500 would be just double that levied upon the business man in the city. In other words, it would be £10. He would thus have to pay a total of £128 15s. in taxation, as against his brother's £5. Yet, what are the questions which are likely to be submitted for decision at the next election? From all that we can judge at the present time, one of the proposals will be more land taxation for the country yokel and more protection for the city man. I have always been an advocate of protection, but I believe in a little modicum of justice. We have been told by the Minister that there are a number of farmers' representatives upon the other side of the House. I do not doubt his statement for a moment, and I do not doubt that they will vote for this motion. I am not particular whether the motion be carried or not, so long as the Government will agree to hold the elections at the earliest possible moment. They can do it, as we all know, and I sincerely hope that they will.

Mr Crouch - Does the honorable member say that land which is worth £1 per acre pays 3d. in the £1 taxation?

Mr McLEAN - Yes. I go further and say that there is a good deal of land in Victoria which is classified at 10s. and 5s. per acre, and which, also bears the same rate of taxation. One pound per acre for taxation purposes is the minimum, and lands which are classified at 15s, 10s., and 5s. per acre contribute at the same rate.

Mr Crouch - The taxation is based, not upon the cash value of the land, but upon its sheep-carrying capacity.

Mr McLEAN - The only person who obtains any advantage under the present system is the individual who holds highclass land which is worth more than£4 per acre.

Mr Crouch - Land valued at £1 per acre is not classified at £1 per acre, but according to its sheep-carrying capacity.

Mr McLEAN - If it is not worth2s. 6d. an acre, it is valued at £1 for taxation purposes.

Mr Webster - Is this an electioneering address ?

Mr McLEAN - I am advancing reasons why the farmer ought to be allowed to record his vote. One of those reasons is that. his own vital interests will be at stake at the next election.

Mr Webster - Who will prevent him from recording his vote?

Mr McLEAN - Those who oppose the holding of the elections at a time when he would be afforded reasonable facilities to exercise the franchise.

Mr Webster - Who does' the honorable member imagine will do that?

Mr McLEAN - I do not know that any one will. The speech of the Minister of Home Affairs encourages the belief that the Government intend that the elections shall be held at the earliest possible date. A1J I wish to emphasize is the necessity for that step being taken. I wish also to emphasize that there are no practical obstacles to prevent that being done. If the Minister will give peremptory instructions that the elections must not be held later than the middle of November, I am perfectly satisfied that his officers will carry them out.

Mr Brown - In Victoria, a section of the press1 has been declaring that the elections should be held in October.

Mr McLEAN - I should very much like to see them held1 in October; but I am. afraid that there are some constitutional difficulties which prevent that. But certainly they should be held before the middle of November. If thev take place at any later period, harvesting operations will be in full swing, and a very large proportion of the farming community, including their employes, who are equally entitled to consideration, will be disfranchised1. Where it is manifest to the workers that thev cannot leave their emplover's crop without involving him in serious loss, my experience is that they refuse to inflict that loss upon him.

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