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Wednesday, 2 November 1910

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- Ministers have charged honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber with a desire to stand up for those who wish to defraud the revenue. They must be utterly destitute of argument when they make such a charge. They know perfectly well that no member of the Opposition would dream for a moment of defending fraud. I am no apologist or defender of , any person who attempts to defraud the revenue) but I object to this clause, because I believe that under it there is very grave danger that innocent persons will be placed in the dock and subjected to severe penalties. The powers conferred upon the Commissioner under the Bill will be enormous - so enormous that any conscientious man may well be pardoned for hesitating to undertake the duties imposed upon that officer. The clause says that any land-owner who undervalues his land with intent to defraud shall be liable to exceedingly heavy penalties. Who can determine whether there was any such intent save the land-owner himself? Instances have been cited in which there has been an honest difference between the valuations made by competent valuers of too per cent. Senator Gardiner has stated that the land-owner himself is the best judge of the value of his land. I utterly deny that. I know of men who have sold land for 50 per cent, less than its value because they did not know any better. This is a very peculiar Bill. If a definition had been given to the term " improvements," the position would have been much clearer. But as the measure stands, we do not know whether ring-barking, grubbing, or draining will be regarded as improvements. Under the clause an innocent man may be haled before the Court, and placed in the dock as a criminal merely because he has endeavoured to comply with the provisions of the Bill. The penalty imposed is a very severe one for what may be an innocent offence. A land-owner can only follow his judgment, and we cannot tell whether or not in his heart he is endeavouring to defraud the revenue. Further, the clause contemplates the forfeiture of land if its owner should undervalue it to the extent of 25 per cent, or more. Thus, not only the land-owner may suffer, but also his wife and children. For an offence which may not have been intended, they may be deprived of a home. That is the iniquity of the clause.

Senator Needham - If a land-owner has no intent to defraud, his wife and children will be all right.

Senator McCOLL - How can he show that? He may say that he believed that his valuation was a fair unimproved valuation. He may urge that it was based upon a sale which took place so many years ago, or he may contend that it w:as based upon the municipal valuation. Yet his plea may not be accepted.

Senator Givens - Each of these pleas would be a good defence.

Senator McCOLL - The land-owner is to be tried first, and the jury are to return their verdict afterwards. Personally, I cannot understand how any Government can introduce legislation of this description. Some method should be devised bv which we can detect an offender, and punish fraud without resort to such a provision as this, which may sweep into the net innocent persons who may not only find themselves in gaol, but absolutely deprived of their land. However, I recognise that it is idle to argue with honorable senators opposite, and, therefore, I shall content myself with entering my protest against legislation of this description, which I am sure will not tend to elevate the public opinion of this Parliament.

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