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Thursday, 20 October 1910

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I do not intend to speak at length, because, with other honorable senators on this side, I am anxious to see this measure placed on the statute-book as soon as possible. But I think that every member of the Senate should give some reason, however briefly, for the vote he intends to record upon a measure so important. We must recognise that this is one of the most important measures with which we are asked to deal during the existence of the present Parliament. I have not heard one argument against the principle of land values taxation. I have noticed that the opponents of this kind of legislation have been remarkably silent upon the principle on which this Bill is based.. The only argument urged against it, so far, ' is that it does not propose to tax all alike. The objection is to the exemption of properties under £5,000 in value. There may be some force in that objection, but we know that in some of the States action is already being taken to collect land taxation on properties less than £5,000 in value. If that course be followed, the principle will be applied throughout, and the scheme of land values taxation will be complete in Australia, although it may not be completed in this measure. Some reason may be urged why the Government do not propose in this measure to tax land values in the case of all properties. It may very reasonably be argued that the State Parliaments should be placed in a position to levy a land tax upon properties under £5,000 in value. We give them, by this legislation, an ample opportunity to raise the revenue which we are told they require. I have said that no argument has been advanced against the principle of land values taxation. It has met with some support even from honorable senators on the other side. But I do not rely upon members of the Opposition for my knowledge of the justice of the principle of land values taxation. All eminent authorities are unanimous in supporting that principle. The greatest political economists in every nation concur in its justice. I shall refrain from quoting any of these authorities, although they are as plentiful as blackberries. All that I have to do at the present time is to justify the imposition of a graduated land tax for the purpose of bursting, up large estates. It has been said that these estates are being utilized to their best possible advantage. So far as Western Australia is concerned, I have no hesitation in denying that statement. It is notorious that many of the large estates there - estates which comprise some of the richest lands - are practically in a virgin condition. It is because the electors of Western Australia recognise that land monopoly has retarded its progress that, at the recent general election, they rose in revolt, and returned to this Parliament so many members of the Labour party. What I am saying of Western Australia is, I believe, equally true of the other States. Indeed, land monopoly exists in a more aggravated form in Victoria and the smaller States of the Commonwealth than it does in the larger States, That circumstance in itself is sufficient justification for the attitude of the Labour party upon this question. During the recent election campaign we placed the principle of land values taxation before the country, and the electors emphatically indorsed it. It cannot be urged for a moment that we have attempted to spring a surprise upon them, because for twenty years this principle has been a prominent plank in the Labour platform. We advocated its adoption when it was unpopular to do so. It has now been accepted by a majority of the electors. With a view to showing the real position of affairs in Western Australia, I propose to make a few quotations. I shall not deal with the evil of land monopoly from the stand-point of any other State than that which I represent. The authorities I am about to quote cannot be accused of prejudice in favour of the Labour party. It is true that they favour the principle of land values taxation, but they cannot be assailed with any charge of being partisans. The first quotation which I shall make is from a newspaper published in one of the richest districts in Western Australia - a district which possesses a splendid soil and an ample rainfall.

Senator Fraser - Does the quotation refer to freeholds or leaseholds ?

Senator DE LARGIE - I think that it relates to both. It reads -

Now, just let us examine the list bearing the names of a few of the " young selectors."We have Mr. Bush, of Clifton Downs, with two and a half million acres, carrying eighty thousand sheep. His wool returns him £20,000; annual sales of surplus stock, £10,000. Yawbrah Station, owned by Mr. Monk, has an area of 490,000 acres, carrying 40,000 sheep; wool returns, £7,000; and sale of surplus stock, £7,000. McLeod's Minilya Station, 400,000 acres, carrying 40,000 sheep. Sir John Forrest's MInderoo Station, 350,000 acres, carrying 35,000 sheep ; wool sales, £9,000 ; sales of surplus stock (sheep), £5,000. This station also carries on horse breeding on a large scale. These values for both wool and sheep are, we believe, considerably under the amount realized, but they go to show what profits are being made by a few of the so-called " young selectors," who will be requested by the Fisher Government to contribute to the Commonwealth coffers a little return for what the country has done for them in providing them with the land from which such wealth could be won. This is the class for which the poor old West is weeping its eyes out, quaking with fear lest they should in disgust throw up their holdings and leave the country.

Senator Fraser - They must be leaseholders. I am prepared to make that statement without knowing the facts.

Senator DE LARGIE - I will not contradict the honorable senator, because I d> not know whether they are leaseholders. But, even if they are, these figures evidence their fitness to pay the proposed tax. My next quotation will be from a Western Australian newspaper. It is in the form of a letter from a farmer who visited that State in search of land for his son. He went to one of the richest, and one of the oldest settled, districts in the State, and this is what he tells the public -

With that intention I journeyed to Newcastle, and from what I heard there I found that I would have to travel miles from Bolgart to secure -what I wanted. I trained it to Bolgart, having arranged for a week's inspection extending north of Wongan, and have a good look cast and west en route. On my arrival at Bolgart I was extremely .fortunate (through my Perth friends), as my guide proved. to be a mau u£ exceptional intelligence and knew every inch of the country that we were about to travel. I at once plied my newly-made friend with many questions. Asked as to the reason why so many thousands of acres of first-class land between Newcastle and Bolgart were conserving firewood instead of growing wheat, he informed me that most of the these large holdings that are still in their virgin state had been held for over seventy years and that I would have to drive several miles before I would see anything of the bond fide selector. He also informed me that six years ago he was forced to select outside these mammoth blocks of land, carting his produce close on forty miles to Newcastle until this season. From the answers I got to the many queries I put to him I came to the conclusion my fate must be to get amongst Australia's greatest drawback, the large holders of unused lands. What I could not understand was a railway being built through and left in the middle of this large tract of fertile virgin land. My friend appeared rather amused. He no doubt had come to look at these things as a matter of course, and informed me that in three or four hours' drive we would be in touch with the selector who is looked upon by the Government to keep the Bolgart railway going. Having made a start on our trip, mile after mile we passed through what is locally known as syndicate land. Having travelled about nine miles we came upon two selections, one Wyoming (an outside holding of the New Norcia Mission). On this there is rather a large orchard and vineyard. These selections were taken up before the syndicate secured their lands, the growing capabilities of the land having been demonstrated by these early pioneers. With this to put before the buyer the Midland Company thought fit, a short time ago to subdivide and auction some thousands of acres which were eagerly bought up. We now travelled through this subdivided land for some six or seven miles, and then struck the first Government selector since leaving Bolgart, close on forty miles from Newcastle. The bulk of the land the whole way is simply growing firewood.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - ls that the Midland railway ?

Senator DE LARGIE - It is a line which runs to the east of, and almost parallel to, the Midland railway.

Senator Fraser - Is it not the linewhich was built by a syndicate?

Senator DE LARGIE - There is a line in the district which was constructed by a syndicate. Here is an exceptionally rich district. There is no denying that fact. Newcastle is 70 miles from Perth, and was one of the first districts in Western Australia to become settled. Land there was taken up some seventy' years ago; but much of it in the neighbourhood is in very much the same condition as it was originally. Surely, in the face of such facts, something ought to be done. That nothing will be done by the State Parliament is quite evident. Several measures have been passed which might have affected the Newcastle district, but nothing has been done with it. It is only one of many cases. Other districts are equally bad. The Western Australian Parliament has authorized the construction of railways into districts that are still almost as backward as they were in the beginning. The township of Newcastle, though situated in an extremely rich district, is today not much better than a miserable hamlet, although it ought to be the Centre of a large population.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Are the lands there privately owned or Crown lands?

Senator DE LARGIE - They are privately owned. It is impossible to buy land within 40 or 50 miles of Newcastle now. I mention these facts to show that some of the richest lands in the country are being held up and misused. This affords ample reason for the action of the Government in bringing forward this proposal. I have a quotation with regard to another case nearer to Perth, in a district where the rainfall is all that it should be, and where the soil is excellent -

Within close proximity to Perth, and stretching along the shores of the Indian Ocean for a distance of over sixty miles, with a portion of its eastern boundary in close touch with the Bunbury railway line, and flanking also the districts of Wongong, Mundijong Mardella, Serpentine, and Pinjarra, is the Peel estate of 241^35 acres holding within its borders thousands of acres of some of the richest lands in the south-west. It is quite safe to go further, and say that it is some of the richest in Western Australia. Its ideal situation and close proximity to the markets, combined with the great productiveness under cultivation of a large portion of the area, gives it special advantages over more distant competitors.

As soon as the Federal elections were over, a cry was raised that the Government should resume that estate for purposes of closer settlement. But I am glad to say that the measure now before us will obviate the necessity for Government resumption, and the owners will either have to pay the tax imposed by the Federal Government, or cut up their property, so that it may be purchased by people who will use the land. When we remember that the Swan River settlement was taken up quite early in the last century, and that to-day some of the largest estates exist there, I think it cannot be denied that there is a necessity for such a Bill as this. Probably this is the first time in the history of Australia that the big land grabbers have been called upon to pay to the State a reasonable amount for the luxury they have enjoyed so long. They have no Legislative Council to rely upon now, and will have to do their duty as citizens. I am satisfied that the people of Australia will welcome this legislation. I will even venture into the realm of prophesy, and say that within a few years, Australia will have benefited to so large an extent that the 13th April, 1910 will be looked back upon as one of the most glorious days in the history of our country.

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