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Thursday, 10 October 1912

Senator RAE (New South Wales) - - I listened with a good deal of interest and some amusement to Senator Walker's impeachment of the Ministry and the party on this side on constitutional grounds. It is well known that the Acts of this Parliament which have been declared ultra vires of the Constitution by the High Court were passed prior to the advent of a Labour Government. If Senator Walker was not aware of the fact, he must have been strangely forgetful of the proceedings in this Parliament.

Senator Walker - Have no such Acts been passed since?

Senator Chataway - Nearly all were passed with the assistance of the Labour party.

Senator RAE - The Labour party had to be on one side or the other.

Senator McGregor - The members of the Labour party warned Parliament at the time the measures were being considered that certain provisions were unconstitutional.

Senator RAE - It is unfair, and the poorest kind of party tactics, to make such accusations against a party that was not in office when the measures referred to were passed.

Senator Walker - If I am wrong, I am willing to withdraw any incorrect statement that I have made, but I am under the impression that I am right.

Senator RAE - The honorable senator and other members of his party told us last year that the provision in the Electoral Bill compelling the signing of political articles published during a certain period before an election would be declared unconstitutional.

Senator Vardon - I never heard any one here say so.

Senator RAE - Honorable senators opposite said it was outrageous, and denounced it in the most vehement language. Yet we find that the learned Justices of the High Court have unanimously declared the provision referred to to be within the powers of this Parliament to enact. Each of the Judges gave a learned judgment, expressing the view that, as a matter of common sense, this Parliament should possess the powers we exercised on that occasion.

Senator Chataway - Let us all say " Hooray for the High Court ! "

Senator RAE - I am neither hooraying for it, nor denouncing it.

Senator Walker - The High Court would not sanction the asking of certain questions by a Royal Commission.

Senator RAE - I am not alluding to that matter at all, but to a provision in the Electoral Act which honorable senators opposite so loudly denounced last year. When Senator Ready was speaking this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition challenged his figures, and, as Senator Pearce has pointed out, subsequently quoted figures dealing with other phases of the question in order to prove that those used by Senator Ready were not correct. That kind of slim politics may appear very clever, and may raise a laugh amongst those who have not even the ability to use such tactics, but they are not valuable for purposes of criticism..

Senator Chataway - The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that Senator Ready missed the figures for one year in order to make his calculations fit his purpose.

Senator RAE - The Minister of Defence gave the figures for every year in his reply, and still proved the statement made. By manipulation figures can be made to prove anything, for as much may depend on those which are left out as on those which are used. I am not going to try and prove a case by anything which is open to refutation in that way. Speaking of the effects of the land tax, I think it is fair to admit that a certain amount of subdivision has been going on for a number of years, and, with or without a land tax, it would continue to a certain extent. But the question is whether the land tax had anything to do with accelerating that subdivision ? Honorable senators who opposed the tax, and said it would be confiscatory in its operation, informed us that the markets would be flooded with land, which would have to be disposed of at a ruinous sacrifice, because no one could hold it and expect to make a profit from its use when such a tax had to be paid upon it. Those statements were made throughout the discussion upon the Land Tax Bill. I do not attempt to repeat the exact language used by honorable senators opposite, but they will not deny the general accuracy of my statement.

Senator Sayers - Why does not the honorable senator tell 'us who they were ?

Senator RAE - Practically every member of the Opposition.

Senator Sayers - I was not one.

Senator RAE - Then the honorable senator is' the exception which proves the rule. Either they overstated the case for purely party purposes, or through ignorance of the operation of the tax they were wrong in their predictions.

Senator Chataway - Land has gone up, rather than down, in value.

Senator RAE - We have experienced a number of fairly good years. While partial droughts may have prevailed here and there, we have, on the whole, been blessed with good productive years. Population has been increasing, and trade and commerce have been flourishing in nearly every part of the Commonwealth. Any effect which the tax might otherwise have" had has been neutralized by that upward growth, which has resulted in general prosperity. Naturally, as one set of circumstances operated to considerably neutralize another set of circumstances, the effect of the tax has not been so apparent as it otherwise would have been. I point out this circumstance, not with a view to instructing honorable senators opposite, _ but because I think it ought to be' admitted that there are many factors in these complex matters which tend either in one direction or the other. Sometimes the contrary operation of these factors confuses the minds of those who endeavour to ascertain the facts, and it is to be deprecated that, for party purposes, politicians sometimes attempt to confuse these very complex matters. I agree with Senator Stewart that the land tax has not had such a marked effect as it would have had if it had been heavier. .

Senator Shannon - If the seasons had been worse.

Senator RAE - That point is one which I have already put from the other side. The good seasons have helped to minimize the effects of the tax. I consider that it would have been wise on our part if we had made the gradations of this tax so steep, and its higher incidence so heavy, as to put beyond all dispute the result of its operation.

Senator St Ledger - If the honorable senator's party had done that, what would have been the effect in our cities?

Senator RAE - That is the old argument. I would remind honorable senators opposite that we should have incurred very considerable risk in having the tax declared unconstitutional had we differentiated between city and country lands.

Senator Ready - And every political economist says that the tax cannot be passed on.

Senator RAE - The average landlord does not profess to be a philanthropist. As he is already getting all the rent that he can, he cannot, in the very nature of things, do anything to increase it. The pressure of population on the small habitable area in our cities has had the effect of raising rents. If there are more people looking for houses than there are houses available, they will naturally have to offer premiums to obtain them.

Senator St Ledger - The higher the tax, the higher the rent.

Senator RAE - No, because the landlord "is getting all the rent that he can.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator is aiming at a pigeon and sometimes shooting a crow.

Senator RAE - We can achieve nothing in this world unless we are prepared to accept some risks. I should be prepared - -if it were possible to pass on rents - to put a sprag in the landlord's wheel by means of other legislation. While the Labour party remain in power, our object is to achieve certain beneficial results. We do not pretend to be so infallible as to enact legislation which can withstand all the onslaughts which may be made upon it by time. Should our legislation prove ineffective, we must devise some other means of dealing with the difficulty. We are out to benefit the people, and if we cannot do that in one way, we must do it in another. To quote an old saying, " If the sword will not win a battle, perhaps shot-guns may." We have a majority in both Houses of the Legislature, and consequently we are able to apply the remedies that we advocate. If we apply those remedies in a sufficiently drastic manner, there will be no room for my honorable friends opposite to argue as to the effect of their operation. I would make the tax very much steeper than it is in its gradations. When once we commence to tax land, there should be no doubt whatever that the tax should be high enough to compel the land-holder either to put his land to the best possible use, or to sell it to somebody who will do that. In the higher grades, I would do away with all the complicated machinery which permits of an exemption of so much, taxes- so many pounds' worth of land at a halfpenny in the £1, and so many pounds' worth at a penny in the £i. In such circumstances, I would not allow any exemption at all.

Senator St Ledger - That is where the. honorable senator's party must go.

Senator RAE - That is what I advocate. I would make the higher gradation apply to every pound's worth of land that a man owns. Estates of £80,000 value and over should have no exemption and no gradations. That would force them into market, if nothing else' would. But if it did not, I would double the tax until it did. If I have a goal in view, I will not stop until I reach it.

Senator Ready - But the honorable senator would not do away with the exemption, of £5,000?

Senator RAE - Not at all. We have been twitted with requiring more revenue, and with having incurred commitments which ought not to have been incurred. When the Leader of the Opposition was challenged to point to these commitments, he trotted out the insignificant item of the proposed laundry at Port Darwin - a most ridiculous anti-climax to his heroics as to' what expenditure he would save. In regard to

Senator Sayers - They are making boots qf that material here in time of peace.

Senator RAE - Just so. They are making that material in the factories which are run by private enterprise, and which honorable senators opposite deify. Whenever there is a chance for rascality to score in commercial circles, it does score.

Senator Sayers - And yet the honorable, senator protects them.

Senator RAE - Possibly it is better to ^protect them than to import materials from the other side of the world. '

Senator Givens - The importer is just as hig a rascal as is the manufacturer.

Senator RAE - Absolutely. At the present time there is actually a market in a certain kind of clay which is sent to Great Britain to the extent of thousands of tons annually, in order to load up the calico which is imported with stiffening. If necessary they would put it into flour as readily as they would put it into calico.

Senator Chataway - Can you give me the name of the clay, or tell me where it comes from ?

Senator RAE - I am unable to do so at present. I do not carry my authority with me.

Senator Chataway - As the Customs Department controls all exports, they could "trace it.

Senator RAE - I am not doing any defective business; but I may inform the honorable senator that samples of this clay have been reported upon as being highly suitable for that purpose.

Senator Chataway - That does not prove that it has been exported.

Senator RAE - It has to come from some country before it can be put into the calico. The point is that, while my honorable friends opposite are always booming enterprise, all commercialism is so honeycombed with rascality that they are prepared to import calico which, in the aggregate, is loaded up with thousands of tons of clay. In the same way all kinds' of deleterious or useless material is incorporated in nearly everything that we eat, drink, and wear. It is manifest that, in the time of war, when large supplies have to be obtained in a very limited time, there are very much bigger opportunities for that rascality to operate than there are in the ordinary times of peace, when you can to some extent pick and choose whom you want to deal with. If we are to have an effective Defence Force, we should take steps to see that, as far as possible, the material required for making uniforms, saddles, or other articles, should be of the best possible quality. Honorable senators must admit that there is no more effective way of attaining that object than by having the commodities made in Government 'factories, where no person has an interest is spoiling or adulterating material.

Senator St Ledger - In times of peace would you have the factories on a war footing?

Senator RAE - We must establish the factories in times of peace, in order to have a trained and efficient staff to provide a large output in the event of war being threatened. It is all nonsense to say that we could establish the factories in three months. We know that, whenever there is an urgent demand for locomotives for the State railways, the cry is that there has been no time to get them made locally, and so the orders are sent abroad1. That would be an unanswerable statement for any Ministry to make if a war were threatened or mooted. If we are to have anything like honest and faithful work done in the way of supplying our troops with everything necessary for their comfort and efficiency, and even for their safety, then in times of peace the necessary - provision should be made for the manufacture of the articles.

Senator St Ledger - The Minister of Defence never complained about clothing manufacturers giving bad stuff. He complained that he could not get the clothing from them fast enough.

Senator RAE - That is so; but even that is a very sufficient answer. If they cannot get sufficient private enterprise willing to take on the work, then they must establish -their own factories.

Senator Vardon - The Department did not give them time enough.

Senator RAE - I am acquainted with the people who run one of the woollen factories in New South Wales, and their statement to me was not that there was not time enough, but that the orders did not extend over the whole year. They said that at one particular period the Department wanted so many thousand yards of cloth, and that to undertake the contract they would require to have a larger staff than they could guarantee to keep permanently employed. Rather than extend their works and increase their staff, they declined an order of that kind, preferring to fulfil ordinary orders. If special conditions apply in regard to the provision of commodities of any kind for the Defence Force or other Commonwealth services, it is well to have our own factories, because it would dislocate private factories to supply unusual orders. Senator Ready made some remarks regarding the demand on the officials of little country post-offices for a halfholiday. Recently I asked a question as to the number of allowance offices in New South Wales which had a Saturday halfholiday, and further questions as to the conditions under which it was granted. Instead of having anything to gain, perhaps I may have something to lose by expressing my opinion here, but I shall do so in what I deem to be the public interest. I was informed that twenty-eight allowance offices have been permitted to close on Saturday afternoon. I happen to live in a district which is somewhat isolated from railway communication, and in which there is a number of little settlements, each with a post and telegraph office. One has to find a postal official in order to get access to the telephone. I found that one or two of these offices, perhaps several, have been closed on Saturday afternoons - they are all within 20 or 30 miles of Sydney - as the result of a petition having been sent in by the local residents. I have a personal knowledge of how these petitions are got up. A postal official, or perhaps a charming daughter, will go round the district and ask the resi dents if ' they have any objection to the postal official getting a half -holiday ; and the neighbourly feeling which exists in little communities prevents those who may be very adverse to the closing of the postoffice from refusing to sign the petition. They also ask young fellows and girls whom they have met at social functions to sign the petition. There is no oversight on the part of the Department, and to a petition' may be attached the signatures of children of ten years of age, for all that it knows to the contrary. Consequently, these petitions should have no weight or value attached to them. These places, .situated1 many miles from a railway, are just those places which above all others should have their post-offices open on every day in theweek. Instead of finding the telephoneoffice closed on Saturday afternoon, I would be glad if there were some means by which it could be, kept open on Sunday.

Senator Chataway - And all night, too.

Senator RAE - It is not possible to dothat.

Senator Chataway - It is possible ;. but it may not be profitable.

Senator RAE - I only want to deal withthe question of public safety. In the district in which I live - and there are districts farther out - it costs nothing less thai* £5 to get a medical man to attend a person. If a death occurs, or an accident takes place, there is no possible way, whenthe post-office is closed,' of getting telephone communication with the nearest townor the metropolis from Saturday at noon until Monday morning. If the officials are not paid enough to allow them to have one member of the family available in a case of emergency, the Commonwealth, at any cost, should provide them with sufficient salary to be able to demand that, their services shall be at the disposal of the general public. I know that many of these officials, as Senator McColl pointed out on the last Estimates, are miserably underpaid, but that is largely their ownfault. They have a. good deal of that black-leg instinct which leads them to compete against one another. They take theoffices at next to nothing, and, grumble afterwards. I hope that the position willbe very much harder if the Department does not pay these men a fairer salary for the very valuable work" which they have todo. I deprecate the idea that, so long as the means of communication are madeavailable at any hour of the day or night in the metropolitan areas, country places* must put up with any deprivation. If we are to effectively settle the country districts, we should not take away any facilities that exist, but rather grant more. Of what use is it to me to go to Sydney and find that a telephone-office is available if the post-office at the other end with which I want to communicate is closed? Of what use it it to have the telephone-offices open in the big towns, where medical aid, doctors, police, fire-brigades, and ambulance corps, are available, if you take away the very few facilities which exist in little isolated country places? If the Department is going in for that retrogressive sort of administration, it will meet with my uncompromising hostility. It \s a mean way of escaping the just obligation that there is upon the Department to pay these officers an adequate salary, and then expect them to be available when they are wanted. In the district where I live, a petition was recently taken round by the local postmistress. It was sent along to my residence with a vacant line at the top, for my signature there would be useful. It was accompanied with a polite note asking me to sign in this place. Although the postmistress was a friend of my wife and myself, I refused to sign in the public interest. I said, " We want the telephone open at all times, and1 the mail-bags also should be despatched. I shall be no party to depriving the district of these conveniences, no matter how many persons may sign the petition." No opportunity is given to those who think differently to voice their opinions. If this matter is to be settled by the voice of the people in the district, a much fairer way would be to cast upon the official who wants a half-holiday the obligation of convening a public meeting by an advertisement and a local notification. Every one would then have an opportunity of being present, and a fair decision would be obtained as to whether the majoritywere in favour of it or not.

Senator Millen - Suppose the majority were in favour, that would not remove the difficulty that the facilities would not be there for those who did want them.

Senator RAE - Just so. It really is not a matter upon which there should be a majority decision. But if any representations are to be made on the subject, they should not be made by means of a faked petition. The matter should be threshed out in the light of criticism. A petition which is taken round by a person individually interested, and who may have it in his power to perform little favours for people whom he asks- to sign, should not be seriously regarded in a matter of this kind. Country people sometimes go late for their mails, and put themselves under a little obligation to a postmaster or postmistress. They cannot then refuse to sign a petition when it is brought round to them. The occasional accidents and calamities which occur in country districts are a sufficient warrant for demanding that country offices shall not be closed ; and if those who look after them are not sufficiently paid for their work, the Government should pay them properly, and then expect their services to be available in the public interest.

Senator Ready - Does the honorable senator know that the Government are increasing the allowances?

Senator RAE - There is need for increases. In the district where I live, an increase of £20 a year would not have been out of the way, considering the duties which those who look after an allowance office are called upon to perform. But when application was made for an increase, the Department granted one of something like 30s. a year. I do not believe in running our Departments in a mean and pettifogging way. The Post and Telegraph Department is really the most important service under our control, because by means of it we maintain communication from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. It should not be starved out of any desire for profit-making. I wish to refer to the rather slim treatment extended by Senator Millen to Senator Ready's figures. The honorable senator did not seem to recognise that he did not deal with the same set of figures as Senator Ready did.

Senator Millen - I dealt with the main facts. Senator Ready's contention was that there has been a gradual increase of cultivation since the land, tax was imposed. I showed that that was wrong by comparing the figures as to area under crop.

Senator RAE - There are three separate factors to be considered-the area under crop, the amount of production, and the value of the production. The area may increase or diminish without necessarily affecting the aggregate wealth derived.

Senator Millen - The main factor was that in the year before this Government came into office there was an increase of 1,000,000 acres ; in the next year, the increase was 900,000; and in the next year 200,000.

Senator RAE - Was not the honorable senator comparing area with amount of production ?

Senator Ready - That is so.

Senator RAE - He compared the amount and value of production, and then tried to represent that the area under crop was not as great as Senator Ready tried to make out. It was like trying to argue that so many yards make a quart !

Senator Millen - The honorable senator himself admitted that the production of land depends on the seasons.

Senator RAE - Every one must admit that. There are so many factors that enter into the value of land, and the value of production, that it is useless to quote one factor and try to prove a case from it. The charge against the Government of expending money wastefully and extravagantly has not been borne- out by anything that Senator Millen said. His one illustration, by way of interjection, was that the proposed laundry in the Northern Territory should not have been built, and that in that way the Government could at least have saved something. If the honorable senator cannot bring a more direful indictment against the Government than that, the charges do not amount to much. I quite admit the perfect soundness of his argument that a Government may start enterprises or works which another Government would not have started, and that nevertheless a new Government would be unable to abolish those that had been started. But nevertheless it is a fair thing to challenge the Opposition as to which of these enterprises are in themselves extravagantly conducted df"* will not prove profitable in the broader aspect to the Commonwealth. Take our Small Arms Factory. Would Senator Millen leave the manufacture of small arms to private enterprise? Take the Cordite Factory. Would he leave that to private enterprise? If we want honest and serviceable commodities for our troops, surely it is a wise and statesmanlike thing to provide factories for their manufacture? We need to provide good material during times of peace, and to have factories that can work up to a war capacity if war should become imminent. Why allow ourselves to be placed at the mercy of rascally 'army contractors of whose services we should have to avail ourselves if we did not provide for these things in time of peace? Surely we should! take warning by what has happened inother parts of the world, and should start on new and better lines ourselves. It is. "up to" Senator Millen to point out which' of these Commonwealth enterprises is initself a mere Socialistic fad, or which is objectionable from a national stand-point. He should indicate which of them is beingextravagantly or recklessly managed. As he has failed to do that, we must assume that he cannot make out a fair case. Themoney which has been expended by thisGovernment hitherto has been raised fromtaxation, mainly through the Customs. Personally, I am one of those who think that we are raising too much money from Customs. I am very much surprised at Senator Millen, devoted Free Trader as we know he used to be, stating that any form of taxation of a direct kind that is proposed is infamous - that it is a hideous thing for us even to suggest by a chance remark or by an alleged observation from' a Minister which he can piece together with a statement made by a private member of our party, that there is even a suspicion in the Ministerial ranks of favouring directtaxation. Senator Millen thinks that he has in that way obtained a weapon withwhich he will be able to punish us before the people of the country at the next election. If it be such a deadly sin to propose to raise more revenue from direct1 taxation, what becomes of the muchvaunted Free Trade views of the honorable senator ?

Senator Stewart - He is not a. Free Trader, but a Revenue Tariffist

Senator RAE - I am not. But Protectionist and Free Trader may well meet in this respect. Absolute Free Trade would abolish the Customs House, and absolute Protection would abolish the revenue from Customs. Consequently both doctrines pushed to their logical conclusion would reach the same goal. If you are to have good government you must have an. ample revenue. You must get that revenue from land, from income, or Customs taxation. Personally, I am in favour of decreasing the purely revenue items in the Tariff. If we are to have Protection, letus make it effective right up to the hilt ; although I must say that I am not muchof a believer in the efficacy of Protection, because, instead of encouraging, people by means of heavy duties to manufacture commodities, I would start factories to manufacture them under the Go-. vernment. I am an open, undisguised, wholehog Socialist, and should not hesitate to put my principles into force.

Senator Chataway - As long as it paid the honorable senator.

Senator RAE - Not as long as it paid one, but as long as it would pay the community. I resent the most unfair insinuation that I wish it to pay me in any way.

Senator Chataway - The honorable senator would agree to Socialism if, when things were divided up, he had just as much money as the other fellow.

Senator RAE - The honorable senator is repeating one of the most familiar and absurd fripperies that ever came from a muddled brain. So far from Socialism being favorable to dividing up, it makes for collective ownership. We have in the Post Office a Socialistic institution. Is there any dividing up there? On the contrary, the whole community has a personal and collective interest in it as a beneficient in:stitution. So it should be with every other institution.

Senator Chataway - And we cannot get replies to our calls.

Senator RAE - Of course there are things that require to be remedied ; but this played-out yarn about dividing up is unworthy !of| any man of intelligence. Socialism, which means collective ownership and the pooling of interests, is the opposite of dividing up. I say that that is the course I advocate, and will continue to advocate, as opportunity affords. So far as the Customs House is concerned, I am in favour of doing away from time to time with the purely revenue Tariff items, and of doing that as compensation for the increase of taxation on land values, and, if necessary, on incomes not gained from personal exertion. I desire by the gradual, but not too gradual, operation of those principles to relieve the classes which now bear the greatest burden of taxation, and are least able to bear it, and at the same time to place it equitably upon the shoulders of those best able to bear it. Any efforts I can make publicly or privately in that direction I shall be prepared to make.

Senator CHATAWAY(Queensland) {9.47]. - It is a matter for regret that the Government have seen their way to interrupt the order of business as they have done. It is nearly a fortnight ago since Senator Millen was interrupted in a speech on the motion for the printing of the !Budget-papers. It is a week or more ago since a speech of mine on the Sugar Bounty Bill was cut short. We have now two half-completed speeches on two different subjects, and a considerable number of partially completed debates on different Bills.

Senator McGregor - When this Bill is dealt with, the honorable senator will get a chance to complete his speech on the Sugar Bounty Bill.

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