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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I agree with the Vice-President of the Executive Council that this Bill, being so intimately assocated with the Land Tax Assessment Bill, and being, indeed, complementary to it, it is unnecessary to debate it at any length. The only remarks I desire to make in connexion with it will be made to emphasize the fact which must be apparent to most honorable senators that this Bill represents a considerable departure from the proposition submitted by Mr. Fisher and his colleagues to the electors prior to the 13th April last.

Senator Givens - Hear, hear ; and in the wrong direction. It makes the tax much lighter than was proposed.

Senator MILLEN - In either direction, it ought to insure the condemnation of Senator Givens. There was not a single elector who had before him any intimation of an intention on the part of the Labour party to propose a land tax in excess of 4d. in the £,1.

Senator McGregor - Yes, some candidates suggested a tax as high as 2s. 6d. in the £i, and they were elected.

Senator MILLEN - There is, of course, an obligation upon members of this Parliament who advocated a tax of 2s. 6d. in the £1 to seek to give effect to what they proposed.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator will admit that some of our opponents industriously circulated the statement that the tax would be is. in the £1 ?

Senator MILLEN - They did not. I can speak for one of the opponents of the present Government, and I know that I said, as I say now, that, whilst the Labour party might pretend to be moderate before the election, once they were placed on the Treasury benches their moderation would disappear, and they would then seek to impose a tax which was never talked of before the elections. The result has justified what I said. The fact remains that the Labour party placed before the electors a proposition to impose a progressive land tax with an exemption of ^5,000 unimproved value, starting at id. in the £z and running up to 4d. in the £1.

Senator Givens - And it was to be an average of 4d. in the £1 on an estate of ^60,000.

Senator MILLEN - At the time to which I refer, there was nothing said about an average at all. The first gentleman occupying a front-rank position in the Labour party to put forward the proposal was Mr. Watson, but, coming to more recent times, the present Prime Minister, in his speech at Gympie, clearly stated that the rate of the tax was to progress from id. up to 4d. in the £1, at which rate it would stop. An explanation has been offered that he had a reference to a rate of 6d. in the £1 somewhere in his notes, but that explanation is too thin to find a ready acceptance in or out of this chamber. Even if ii be correct that the honorable gentleman had a reference to a rate of 6d. in the £1 in his notes, I say that the only authority the Government have from the electors is to give effect to that portion of Mr. Fisher's notes which was disclosed to the. public They have no authority to carry out a proposition which was never submitted to the electors, and certainly there never was a proposal submitted to the electors for the imposition of a tax as high as that proposed in the Bill now before us. I recognise what has happened. I honestly believe that when Mr. Fisher put before the electors a tax running from id. to 4d. in the f.x he intended that the tax to be imposed should be at that rate. But he had to deal with another constituency. He had to deal with a constituency whose meetings are not held in the open, and are not usually attended by representatives of the press. That constituency having decided that a tax of 4d. in the £1 was not sufficiently high, or did not bring them sufficiently near their ideal of the ultimate acquisition by the community of all the lands of the country, decreed that the tax of 4d. in the £1 submitted to the electors should be increased by 50 per cent., and hence we have a proposal in this Bill running the tax up to 6d. in the £1.

Senator Pearce - That is inaccurate.

Senator MILLEN - Perhaps the constituency "to which I refer proposed that the tax should be higher, and only came down to a tax of 6d. in the £1 as a compromise to help Mr. Fisher out of the difficulty in which he was placed.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is guessing.

Senator MILLEN - It is easy for honorable 'Senators opposite to tell us that we are wrong, but it would be just as easy for them to explain exactly what did take place at the meetings of the constituency to which I refer. But it does not matter whether the change took place in or out of the caucus. The fact remains that 4d. was the highest rate put before the electors by any one entitled to speak on behalf of the Labour party, and the moment they were returned to power they sought to give effect to the imposition of a tax 50 per cent, in excess of what they promised the electors it would be.

Senator Lynch - The Labour party went out of office after the declaration in favour of a tax of 4d. in the £1, and were again returned.

Senator MILLEN - Yes; but no one would pretend for a moment that when the party was before the electors on the last occasion they intimated an intention to depart from their previous declaration.

Senator Lynch - It was to be an effective land tax.

Senator MILLEN - If the party intended to repudiate their previous declaration, it would have been nothing but common honesty to have informed the electors of the fact. If, after Mr. Fisher's declaration at Gympie, the members of the party had again reviewed the matter, and come to the conclusion that a higher tax than we propose was necessary, they should in common honesty have told the electors before the last election what taxation proposals they intended to submit.

Senator Ready - Have not the people of New South Wales indorsed this proposal since the Federal Labour party were returned to power?

Senator MILLEN - That is just what they have not done. We have only to look at the two sets of figures representing the voting on both sides on the 13th April and the 14th October to see that, if the increase has been indorsed at all, it has not been in the State, of New South Wales.

Senator Ready - The last State elections in New South Wales gave the Labour party in the State a majority.

Senator MILLEN - If my honorable friends are satisfied with the result of the election, I have no objection. I may say, as one of the Liberals who took some part in the election, that I am abundantly satisfied with the result. If the reduction of a sweeping majority on the 13th April to a beggarly equality of numbers on the 14th October is a victory, my honorable friends are welcome to it. But I am not dealing now with political victories, but with a departure by the Labour party from their promise to the electors.

Senator Lynch - A number of the electors are astonished at our moderation.

Senator MILLEN - I am not at all surprised at that interjection. I do not care whether honorable senators think they are moderate or not. My contention is that the party in office ought to make an effort to carry out the pledges which secured the votes that placed them there. In this case, the votes of the electors were sought on a definite proposition to impose a land tax running up from id. to 4d. in the £I

Senator Lynch - Indeed, they were not.

Senator MILLEN - I invite the honorable senator to refer me to any official declaration by the Labour party proposing a tax of 6d. in the £1.

Senator Lynch - We never went into such particulars.

Senator MILLEN - Is not a statement that the tax would run from id. up to 4d. in the £1 going into particulars?

Senator Lynch - We advocated an effective land tax, and it was on the understand-, ing that we would impose such a tax that the electors sent us here.

Senator MILLEN - What was regarded by the Labour party as an effective land tax was shown clearly by the proposal that the rate should progress from id. up 'to 4d. in the £1 upon estates over a certain unimproved value.

Senator Ready - In Tasmania, a Labour candidate advocated that the tax would be is. in the £1.

Senator MILLEN - But I remind the honorable senator that that candidate did not bind the party, and the electors were entitled to depend upon what the official heads of the party had to say. There was not one of the leaders of the Labour party who told the electors that they must not be misled by the previous declaration of the leader of the party, and that if they got into power they would impose a higher tax. The electors were entitled to believe that the party, if it succeeded, would adhere to the proposal to impose a tax up to 4d. in the £1. But the Government have one unanswerable argument on which they rely every time, and that is their majority. In view of that argument, I recognise that it would be futile to continue this discussion. I wish, therefore, merely to place it on record that it has not passed unnoticed in this Chamber, as I hope it will not pass unnoticed outside, that in this case, the first time they were tried, the Government have wilfully thrown behind them the pledges on which they secured their position at the last general election.

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