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Thursday, 10 October 1912

The PRESIDENT - Order !

Senator READY - That is the system which is, to a certain extent, responsible for the position which obtains in the State from which I hail. Personally, I would like to see our land tax increased in its middle incidence. After we return from' the elections - and I am satisfied that the members of the Labour party in this Senate will return here - one of the first questions which we shall have to face is that of making the middle gradations of the land tax heavier than they are at the present time.

Senator St Ledger - Has the honorable senator anything to say with regard to the exemptions?

Senator READY - My honorable friend need not waste time by making an interjection of that sort. I stand by the platform of the Labour party, which favours an exemption of £5,000. I wish to see the land tax reach is. in the £i upon unimproved land values.

Senator St Ledger - Will not that involve a lowering of the exemption?

Senator READY - -No. I would point out that there is a principle of unimproved land values taxation which favours the big man. We have been told by political economists that land values taxation acts equitably in the case of small and large holdings alike. That is a fetish which many have come to believe. As a matter of fact, the principle operates to the detriment of the small estates, and to the advantage of the large estates.

Senator Shannon - Very often it does.

Senator READY - Our definition of " unimproved value," and also the definition of that term which has been adopted by many of the State Parliaments, is based upon the selling value of lands. If there are two blocks of land side by side, and each is of equal value from the standpoint of situation, soil, &c, many persons assume that if one block, which contains 10 acres, is worth £10 per acre, the other block, which contains thousands of acres, must also be worth £10 per acre. Under the definition of unimproved basis adopted by both this Government and the Tasmanian Government - that is the selling value - that is not so. A small piece that is worth £10 an acre will sell for that price. A large piece, if subdivided into10-acre blocks, might sell at £10 an acre, but, sold in the aggregate, it might fetch only £8 an acre, and, therefore, it would be assessed at £8, and the small man, through having a small holding, would thereby be penalized. I advance that fact, which must be well known to many honorable senators, as an additional reason why we should increase the taxation on the bigger estates. Our Government, with their customary fairness in spite of the great excitement which has been worked up from the other side in connexion with certain appointments-

Senator Walker - There are some shocking appointments among them.

Senator READY - I know of one very shocking appointment, and that is the appointment of a Liberal ex-member of the Tasmanian Assembly as a valuator. Judging by the way in which he has valued lands whichhave been brought under my notice, and the opinions which have been expressed by persons more competent than myself, this Liberal ex-member of the Assembly has been very favorably inclined in his valuations towards big estates. I expect that his appointment, which I suppose my honorable friends opposite must regard as a partisan one, will result in a considerable amount of trouble.

Senator Millen - That is a very serious reflection on the Land Tax Commissioner.

Senator READY - No. It is an instance which shows that the Government have been absolutely impartial in making appointments; that they have not considered whether the applicant for a certain position was a supporter of themselves or the Opposition. I shall give one instance of this gentleman's valuations, and facts, we are told, are far better than arguments. It is furnished by Mr. Norman Cameron, ex-M.H.R. of Federal fame, and now Tasmanian M.H.A., who holds the key of the situation in the Tasmanian Parliament.

Senator Chataway - Not more than any other member does, except that he is more of a wobbler.

Senator READY - He holds the key of the situation this much that he was able to force the Government to delay a train for an hour on a special line, a thing which is practically unheard of so far as other members of the State Parliament are concerned. In the State Assembly, he said that he had a great deal of fault to find with the State valuation of his estates. I may mention here that a new State valuation has just been made on the same definition of unimproved value as is contained in the Federal Act, because the two are very similar in that regard. Mr. Norman Cameron told the House of Assembly that the State valuator had assessed his land at . £33,000 unimproved, and that the Federal valuator had assessed it on the same basis at£19,000.

Senator Chataway - What is the argument?

Senator Millen - That the State assessment was too high.

Senator READY - The argument is that either the State valuation is very much too high, or the Federal valuation is notoriously an under-valuation.

Senator Stewart - I think that the latter is the case.

Senator READY - I am inclined to think that both valuers may have erred. The State valuation may be unduly high, and the Federal valuation may be unduly low. There may be a happy medium.

Senator Chataway - Did he appeal?

Senator READY - Mr. Cameron appealed, naturally, against the State valuation, but not against the Federal valuation. I have had the privilege of meeting some gentlemen who know his estate very well, and they say that the error, if any, is, as Senator Stewart interjected, on the part of the Federal valuator. The valuators of the district, who know Mr.

Cameron's property - I do not know it - assured me that to say it is worth only £19,000 unimproved value is absolutely a travesty. If such a condition should continue in Tasmania, particularly under the gentleman who has valued this property, there will be room for a searching inquiry as to the methods of valuation. I called upon Mr. P. C. Douglas, the Deputy Commissioner - a very capable officer, who, no doubt, thoroughly understands land values - and he is going into this case. I believe that the instance quoted by Mr. Norman Cameron could be multiplied if one liked to look round Tasmania, and take notice of the Federal valuations. That, again, is an additional reason why we should increase our graduation. I believe that if this kind of thing is allowed to go on, our land tax will not be effective in Tasmania, and we shall not be able to ' secure what we promised the people when it was imposed, and that is the subdivision of many of these estates.

I should like the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to take a note of the objection which is urged in Tasmania, and I think in other States, to the present system of allowing the municipal council to decide whether- a small-allowance postmaster shall have a half-holiday or not. It may have been the best method which the postal authorities could devise for obtaining an indication of local opinion, but it is one which is very seriously open to condemnation and criticism. Every honorable senator will, I am sure, admit that these allowance post-offices are a continual source of pin-pricking and worry. I have found in several instances that, while the people of the district were quite willing that a small-allowance postmaster receiving £*°> £J5> £2°> °r £25 a Year should be allowed to have a half-holiday every week, some of the local councillors, particularly those who represented the ward in which the post-office was situated, refused to give their permission to the postmaster to close it.

I know of one instance where a woman who lives in a very small place on the Tamar is unable to get to Launceston to do her shopping for the simple reason that she has to be at her allowance post-office every day. At the instance of the " Great I Am " of the municipal council, who is, like a number of other authorities, dressed with a little brief authority, that body has refused to give this poor woman a half-holiday. A similar instance was recently brought under my notice. All the residents of the locality desired that the allowance postmaster should get a half-holiday. The matter was brought before the municipal council, and in a high-handed way its consent was refused. I happened to be in the locality.

Senator Millen - The local authority can neither refuse nor grant permission, because the responsibility is with' the Postal Department.

Senator READY - That is so, but a practice has grown up of the Department acting on the advice of the municipal council. A case was brought under my notice where this permission was refused by the municipal council. I told the people that I was not prepared to speak for the locality, as I did not know its circumstances, and promised that if they would get up a petition I would present it to the Deputy Postmaster-General. At my suggestion practically every resident of this hamlet signed a petition.

Senator Chataway - Except the municipal councillors, I suppose.

Senator READY - The councillor who influenced the council does not live in the hamlet. He is the " Great I Am," who passes through the hamlet from time to time.

Senator Chataway - But there must be other councillors.

Senator READY -The "Great I Am" is the one who was primarily responsible. I forwarded the petition of the people to the Deputy Postmaster-General, and to my surprise I received 'a reply stating that he would again consult the municipal council with the idea of obtaining their consent. That is how the case stands.

Senator Chataway - To allow the Commonwealth Government to do a certain thing.

Senator READY -The Deputy PostmasterGeneral, no doubt, has been waiting, for a recommendation from the municipal council. This system is open to serious objection. I, for one, feel rather surprised at the thought that, after all this trouble on the part of the residents and myself, the Deputy Postmaster-General who, I understood, would recommend the request to the central authorities, sent it back to the municipal council, and asked the advice of that august body. I think that if it can be shown clearly that the people of a hamlet want their postmaster to have a half -holiday - and surely a petition signed by a majority of them does show that - there should be no bar in the way of them getting their request acceded to as speedily as possible.

Senator Millen - The question is not whether the local people want the officer to have a half-holiday, but whether they want the post-office closed.

Senator READY - In the case I have mentioned the petition asked for a halfholiday for the officer, and the residents knew clearly what they were signing.

Senator Needham - Should not the central authorities call upon the Deputy Postmaster-General for an explanation?

Senator READY - Yes. I understood from the Deputy Postmaster-General that if a petition were sent in for the closing of the office on the weekly half-holiday he would recommend that the prayer be granted, but he merely sent the petition back to the municipal council, and there is an end of the matter. The name of the place I may mention is Gravelly Beach, on the Tamar. I believe that a system could be inaugurated whereby a majority of the people in a hamlet would be in a position by means of a petition to secure their desire at once, and so enable the postmaster who is getting what is merely a pittance to enjoy the benefit of a weekly halfholiday.

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