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Thursday, 10 October 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I listened to the debate on land value taxation which was initiated by Senator Ready in a very, instructive speech. While he claims that the tax imposed by the Labour party has done something to break up land monopoly, he admits that a good deal more requires to be done. That is exactly the position I took up. Tasmania has not gained in population. It is the one State in the Union which is losing population. I think that proves conclusively that our land tax has not been effective there. My own opinion is that Tasmania, with its great natural advantages, ought to be the most prosperous State in the Commonwealth ; but, instead of that, it is the most reactionary in politics, and the least prosperous as regards social conditions.

Senator O'Keefe - Do not forget that during the last few months the social and industrial conditions in Tasmania have been brought to a level with those in the other States.

Senator STEWART - The exodus from Tasmania still goes on.

Senator O'Keefe - To nothing like the same extent as it did.

Senator STEWART - When a young State like Tasmania loses population, it is ample evidence that there is something seriously wrong with the country or the people, or the government. I am satisfied that there is nothing wrong with the people; I am satisfied that the State is a good one ; and, therefore, the only conclusion I can come to is that the government is bad. Senator Rae has asked me would not people naturally leave Tasmania, so that they may visit a larger territory? There may be something in that suggestion, but my experience of the human family is that they usually congregate where they find themselves most comfortable. With regard to land monopoly generally throughout Australia, we have the members of the Opposition contending that the land tax of the present Government has done nothing to break up that monopoly. On the other hand, we have a majority of the Government party maintaining that a good deal has been done to destroy the condition of monopoly which existed before the passing of the Land Tax Act. It is quite natural that Government - supporters should claim credit for a measure which they have helped to pass ; and probably it is just as natural that members of the Opposition should say that it has had little or no effect. I have attempted to take, from the party stand-point, a disinterested view of the position, and I have come to the deliberate conclusion that the land tax has done little or nothing to destroy land monopoly. Land monopoly is just as rampant in Australia to-day, as it was before the tax was imposed. The price of land, instead of going down, as it ought to do if the tax were effective, continues to mount up. No doubt, the good seasons have had a considerable influence on this movement. Owing to the seasons and the high price of various commodities produced by agriculturists, there has been quite a rush 01 people on to the land during the last seven or eight years. But if we have three or four years of drought, and that will inevitably take place sooner or later, land values will fall, and the rush to take up land will not be nearly so great. The complaint hitherto has been that, owing to monopoly, land was scarce, and consequently dear.

Senator St Ledger - At present, the Crown is the greatest land monopolist in Australia.

Senator STEWART - That has nothing to do with the question that I am discussing. People who require land for settlement cannot get it at present at a price which they are able to pay. My complaint against the Labour party is not that it imposed the land tax, but that it refrains from pushing the tax home. The party got a mandate from the people of Australia to destroy land monopoly. The mandate was not to impose this tax or another. It was simply to break the neck of land monopoly. But land monopoly is as strong to-day as ever it was. Unless the present policy is altered, what will happen will be this : Estates will be cut up and people settled upon the land. The fact of their settling will increase the value of neighbouring lands, and values will increase, until the, tax itself will be only of very slight assistance to people who desire to get land upon which to settle. What every rational reformer desires is that land shall be made so cheap and so readily available in Australia that any man who wants a good piece can get it. There is plenty of land in this continent. There is enough along our railway lines, and contiguous to our ports, to settle 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 people. Yet when people want Crown land in Queensland, where it ought to be fairly plentiful, they are driven back from the railway lines into country where the land is of comparatively poor quality, where the rainfall is scanty, and where they have to drag their commodities over miles of bad roads. There is plenty of land in Queensland, but, unfortunately, it is not available.

Senator Ready - Senator St. Ledger said it was.

Senator STEWART - But* Senator St. Ledger belongs to a party which buttresses land monopoly. I do not trouble my head about what he says in this connexion. In Queensland, if a man wants a selection from the Government, he has to wait from a year to eighteen months before he can get it. In a young country like Australia, with so much good land, it should be as easy for a man to get a piece of country upon which to settle as it is for me to go down Bourke-street and buy a suit of clothes. As a matter of fact, not only has a man to wait a considerable time before he can get land, but in a great many cases he never gets a piece at all. I mentioned some time ago a case where there were 400 applicants for two pieces of very indifferent country. In the Claremont district recently two grazing areas were thrown open - one of 5,000, and the other of 7,000 acres. For the 5,000-acre area there were ten applicants, and for the 7,000-acre area there were sixty-seven.

Senator Millen - What was the value of that land?

Senator STEWART - I have no idea.

Senator Sayers - The rental was about fd. per acre.

Senator STEWART - That is probably near the mark. The fact that sixty-seven people applied for one piece of land proves conclusively that there is a land famine in Queensland. If there is a dearth of available land there, the state of affairs in the other States must be much worse. The safety of Australia depends on our getting a big population as quickly as we possibly can. The only way to get that population is to offer, not only our own people - who ought to have the first chance - but people from other countries who are looking for outlets for their energy, cheap and good land. A large area is of no use to an immigrant. Immigrants who come here from other countries have little more than their strong right arm. But a man who wants to .settle under favorable circumstances in Australia to-day must have money. Ordinarily, a man with money does not want to leave his own country. He is well enough off where he is. He is not going to tempt fortune by going elsewhere. The people who desire to leave their native land are those who have nothing save their own health and strength. To these people we absolutely offer nothing in Australia.

Senator Ready - I saw twenty immigrants cadging tucker on the wharf here not long ago.

Senator STEWART - We offer them nothing. The principal reason I have for blaming the Federal Labour Government in this connexion is that it is the only Labour Government in Australia which has the power to deal with the question. It has a majority in both Houses.

Senator Ready - And no Legislative Council to fight against.

Senator STEWART - And no Legislative Council to contend with. If it will only put its hand to the plough, it can completely destroy the condition of land monopoly that exists on this continent, and, whatever the after effects may be, it ought, as a reform party to seize the opportunity which the electors have given it to do them this great service. The immediate after effects might be very bad for the party. It has very often happened in the political history of a country that the people who have carried reforms have been turned out of power soon after by those in. whose interests they have been working. I do not believe, however, that such a thing would happen to the Labour party. I am satisfied that the benefits of this policy would become so apparent that, instead of being turned out of power if they carried it through, they would be given an almost permanent lease of office. The people of Australia would be so convinced - in fact, the evidence of the benefit of 'this policy to the country would be so complete - that no one would dream of ever substituting for them such a party as we find now in Opposition.

Senator St Ledger - How much further would the honorable senator go, "according to his policy?

Senator STEWART - I would destroy land monopoly by a land value tax. Does the honorable senator want anything more?

Senator Ready - He is fishing for something, out of which to make capital at the next general election.

Senator STEWART - I care nothing for that. I am willing to put all my cards on the table, so that the people of Australia may see them. I believe that the policy I am advocating is the only policy that will do the working men and women of Australia any good, and, believing that, I am not afraid to tell them so. I believe this policy is the best for the people who are settled upon the land, or who intend to settle upon it. The only people who will be injured by a policy of this kind, if it is carried out to the fullest extent, are the land speculators, the land monopolists, the men who buy up huge areas without intending to use them. Have honorable senators ever considered what land monopoly means? We hear a great deal about the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which has a monopoly of the manufacture and distribution of sugar; but the land monopolist corners everything. He corners our food, our clothing, our furniture, and everything else that we require.

Senator Rae - Even the good results of our virtue.

Senator STEWART - Quite so ; and yet we hardly ever hear a word about him in the Federal Parliament.

Senator Millen - We hear of him every time that the honorable senator speaks.

Senator STEWART - And as long as I have a seat in the Senate the honorable senator, if he is here, will continue to hear me. I do not know whether that time will be long or short, but as long as I have breath to enunciate my views, I shall give utterance to them. I do not intend to labour this question. All I wish to do is to try to impress upon the party with which I am associated the absolute necessity of dealing with this question, not in the half-hearted fashion in which it has already dealt with it, but by pushing it right home, and breaking up land monopoly, which is undoubtedly doing the people of Australia a great injury. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. Senator Millen, I think, asked Senator Pearce whether the Government intended to resort to additional taxation to meet the expenditure, which is going up, as the phrase has it, by leaps and bounds. The honorable senator replied that he thought that the revenue from Customs and Excise, together with that obtained from the present land tax, would be sufficient to meet all expenditure without imposing additional taxation. If that statement reflects the mind of the Government on the question, it is, from my point of view, one of the most serious statements that has been made in this Chamber for a considerable time. It simply means that the Labour Government intend to persist in the policy of revenue.tariffism.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator voted for revenue duties every time. For instance, he voted for a duty on rice and tapioca.

Senator STEWART - I voted for duties on those articles because I believed they could and would be produced in Australia. What I desire now is an opportunity to reverse those votes, because only a few bushels of rice have been produced in Australia during all these years. I am exceedingly anxious to have an opportunity of abolishing the duty on rice; but the Government - Senator Pearce being one of their number - are not very anxious, apparently, that I should have that opportunity. If the honorable senator desires to see me reverse certain votes that I gave, let the Government give the Senate an opportunity to deal with the question.

Senator Pearce - We told the honorable senator that rice would not be produced

Senator STEWART - But the honorable senator's judgment was no more reliable, from my point of view, then than it is now, when he seems to think that the best thing for a Labour Government to continue is a system of revenue-tariffism.

Such a system is directly opposed to every principle of the Labour movement. The Labour party's policy with regard to taxation is direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation, and the sooner we have a clear statement from the Government on this question the better it will be for all concerned. I cannot, and never will, be a party to the continuance of a system under which we get such a huge revenue from Customs and Excise as we are obtaining. If I am here next session, and an attempt is made in this direction, most undoubtedly the Government will have me against them upon that question. I do not wish to enter into the question of taxation at any great. length. Senator Ready seemed to think that a super-tax on incomes would be very desirable. There is only one policy for the party which genuinely desires reform, and that is to exhaust first community created values. When those Have all been garnered into the Commonwealth Treasury, and are found not to be sufficient to carry on the government of the country, it will be time 60 talk of imposing taxation.

Senator Millen - Such a policy would ignore exemptions.

Senator STEWART - Undoubtedly. Why should there be exemptions? The only reason for them is to try the effect of the policy.

Senator Rae - There is another reason ; the heavy burden of Customs duties?

Senator STEWART - The working people of Australia have everything to gain and, nothing to lose by changing the system of taxation. Each family pays, on the average, from £10 to £20 a year in Customs taxation, but if we had a system under which the bulk of our revenue was raised from land values, probably the taxation would not be more than a few shillings, the bulk of the revenue coming from huge city values. It is extremely desirable that we should have a clear understanding of the intention of the Governmnt with regard to the Tariff. If Senator Pearce is right, and the Government is leaning on the Tariff for its revenue, good-bye to Protection. Every one knows that if the Tariff were made protective, it would yield much less revenue. The Government needs revenue, and if it is not going to take other measures to raise it, the Tariff must remain as it is, without revision. That is a fine look-out for the young industries of the continent, and very disappointing to those of us who have gone up and down the country trying to persuade the people that the best policy for Australia is to begin with protection against the land monopolist, and, in the next place, give protection against the cheap sweated labour of foreign countries. The Government will have the support of the Opposition in maintaining the Tariff as it stands.

Senator Millen - That is a second improbability.

Senator STEWART - No doubt, the honorable member hopes that next Parliament he will be on the other side of the chamber. I do not know what may happen, but if this Government remains in power, and desires then to maintain the Tariff as it stands now, it will have the support of the present Oppositionists.

Senator Rae - As Fusionists, the members of the Opposition cannot help themselves.

Senator STEWART - No. They are revenue Tariffists. But we who are members of the Labour party cannot consistently support a policy of that kind. The bulk of our revenue must be derived directly. Such a great change in our financial arrangements could not be brought about suddenly; it must be accomplished gradually. We have only to guide us as to the intention of the Government its inaction and the statement of Senator Pearce, which indicate that the existing Tariff is to be maintained. 1 object to that. If the present Government is still in power in the next Parliament, I trust that better counsels will prevail, and that something will be done, not only to increase the land value taxation, but also to make our Tariff more effective than it is at the present time as an instrument of Protection. If the Tariff does not protect sufficiently to enable us to establish industries, the wall must be heightened. If the people of Australia prefer Free Trade, I would rather have that pure and simple than the present revenue Tariff, because it would make direct taxation inevitable, and with direct taxation and the freeing of our natural resources which would result, Protection would not then be nearly so necessary as it is now. But my preference is for high Protection with direct taxation. That policy will break up land monopoly, and give to our people the opportunity to settle on the soil, or to those who wish to engage in manufacturing, the opportunity to use and develop the great natural resources of this new country.

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