Tax Resistance in Australia

From the Launceston, Tasmania Examiner:

Income Tax and Passive Resistance.

(To the Editor.)

Sir, — A cry of execration went up through all Tasmania when Mr. Bird first introduced his Income Tax Bill, and the result was that, on an appeal being made to, the country, the Ministry was completely ousted and a fresh Government formed, which was returned with, a distinct mandate from the people to oppose the tax, and those returned pledged them selves so to do.

But now, with feelings of surprise and indignation, the people find that their positive mandate has been totally ignored, and that their representatives have allowed an Income Tax Bill to be placed on the statute book far more oppressive and unjust than the one formerly introduced by Mr. Bird, and which created such an intense feeling of disapprobation through out the state. The House of Assembly throws the blame on the Legislative Council, but the Assembly should have stood firm, knowing the people’s mandate, especially as the Treasurer distinctly stated that he did not require the money asked for.

The tax as passed is a notoriously unjust one, and should be opposed vigorously by the people by “passive resistance,” the same as is being done in England at the present time in reference to another rate. Let no one pay the demand till forced so to do. I think the Government will then find that it is dangerous to act in direct opposition to the expressed will of the people, and that the said tax will be uncollected. — Yours, etc.



[Our correspondent is wrong in his conclusion. The tax which is being demanded is that imposed by the Lewis Government. The Propsting Government passed no Income Tax Bill. ―Ed. “Ex.”]

The “Devonportonian” wasn’t just whistling Dixie:

The West Coast.

(By Electric Telegraph.)
(From Our Special.)

A mass open-air meeting is to be held here on to advocate passive resistance to payment of the income tax.


A Passive Resistance Movement.

The following resolution regarding the Income Tax was passed at an open-air meeting in Main street , at which several hundred were present:

That we, the taxpayers of Zeehan in mass meeting assembled, hereby express our solemn determination to passively resist the payment of the unjust income tax imposed by the late Government, who were in consequence literally pitched out of office, and which the present Ministry were pledged to repeal, the said tax being therefore contrary to the almost unanimous wish of the country.

Messrs R.J. Wilkinson and W. Lamerton, M.H.A., were the speakers. Another meeting was announced for .

Here is another report, from The Zeehan and Dundas Herald:

The Income Tax.

an open-air meeting was held in Main street to deal with the income tax demands. There was a goodly number present, who assembled in front of the Victoria Hotel, from the balcony of which the speeches were delivered, and were heartily applauded. Mr R.J. Wilkinson said he was there at the call of duty. He recalled what had taken place at former open-air meetings regarding the income tax, and the efforts which had been put forth against it. He had addressed thirteen meetings against the tax, and he recalled the burning of effigies; also the reply given at one of the meetings as to who would resist, in every lawful way, the payment of the tax, when there were at least 300 who had determined to resist it. He moved the following resolution:— “That we, the taxpayers of Zeehan, in mass open-air meeting assembled, hereby express our solemn determination to passively resist the payment of the unjust income tax imposed by the late Government, who were in consequence literally pitched out of office, and which the present Ministry were pledged to repeal, the said tax being, therefore, contrary to the almost unanimous wish of the country.” He said that some of the workers had been asked to pay £2 5s, and up to £2 15s, as income tax, and then, proceeded to point out that before he took up a matter he asked whether it was right or wrong, and the cost. He had carefully looked into the question of passive resistance, and had come to the conclusion that it was right. That being so he cared not who was opposed to him in the matter. On the Legislative Council, which is tyrannising and dogmatising over the House of Assembly, determined it they would have the pound of flesh, and that the tax should be taken from the working classes in spite of the will of the people. The Legislative Council by its action had almost driven the people into revolt against the law. If the amount had been 4d in the pound there would have been a surplus of £5,000, so that it was not necessary. The Lewis Government had asked the working classes to pay £20,000, but the owners of real estate and agriculturists were called on to pay only £6,000. He next touched on the last general election, and the lesson it taught the Lewis Government. In the May following the general elections there were six members of the Legislative Council to be elected, and of these four of them are the most determined opponents of the Propsting Government. He held that when a man made a pledge on the platform be should fulfill it at any cost. There would be a great deal of suffering caused through the collection of the income tax, but they could not blame the West Coast or Major Morrisby, but they could the other parts, because they did not have written pledges from the candidates. It was wise to have these pledges, particularly the members of the Legislative Council. There would be some more vacancies, and the other parts of the State ought to be alive. He blamed the Government for not having the backbone to say that it would not collect the tax. Had the Government known it had the voice of the country behind it they would have defied the Council; it ought to have done so, as the country at the elections had sent the previous Government to the right-about for their misdeeds. Had the Propsting Government been firm and gone to the country they would have been returned with still greater honors. The tax on real estate had been reduced from £74,000 in 1892 to £41,000 in 1902, while direct taxation, exclusive of the present income tax, had increased from £49,000 to £68,000. Passive resistance was next explained. He was going to let the Government do its best to get what it could from him. If the country was in distress and needed the money he would willingly pay it. To passively resist was to take no notice of the demands issued, just as was done in England in regard to the Education Act. If their goods were seized he did not think that any one would bid for them.

Mr Geard seconded the motion in a bright speech. It was a pleasure to him to speak against anything that was wrong, and if the income tax was right, why did the country send the old members to the right-about? He could not pay, and if everyone held the same opinion as he did, the Government would soon get tired of asking.

Mr Wilkingson said that it had been deemed advisable to hold a second meeting on another night under the auspices of the Workers’ Political League of the Zeehan district. There had been too much waiting on what the other fellow was going to do, and he had called that meeting without consulting anyone.

The motion was carried unanimously amid cheers.

Mr Lamerton spoke against the income tax, and reviewed what he had done in Parliament. He advocated the calling of Parliament together, and a Bill introduced providing for an exemption of £150 per annum.

The meeting dispersed, it being intimated that another would be held next week.

Meeting at Beaconsfield.

A large public meeting was held at Beaconsfield to denounce the personal exertion tax, some strong speeches being made. It was resolved to urge Ministers to call an early meeting of Parliament to consider the tax.

The North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times carried this vaguely-sourced hint:

It is reported that certain sections of the Civil Service, and particularly of the Railway Department, are organising a determined effort to avoid by legitimate means payment of the income tax, which presses with peculiar severity on a large proportion of the railway staff.

And then the clergy got into the action:

The Income Tax.

Church and State.

A Pulpit Deliverance.

At one time political subjects were rarely touched upon in the pulpit, but that day has passed, many ministers apparently holding to the belief that such questions can be dealt with just as ably in a church as upon the public platform. Such opinion is evidently held by the Rev. J. Bangers, who dispensed with the usual sermon, and delivered instead an address entitled “The Income Tax: Payment or Passive Resistance.”

Basing his remarks upon Matthew ⅹⅻ. 21 — “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” — he claimed that he had no need to apologise for selecting such a subject as the one which he proposed to deal with that evening. He said that in order to draw the people to the fold of the church he considered it was necessary that the churches should deal with questions pertaining to the welfare of the people. In discussing the question of the income tax, they had to consider it from an economic standpoint. A great, deal of foolish talk was being indulged in on all sides at the present time regarding the payment of the tax, and he would ask them to utterly disregard such wild utterances. It was necessary that there should be taxation. The state could not carry out public works, such as roads, and bridges, without finding the necessary money, therefore. the people could not oppose any taxation imposed for legitimate purposes. When, however, taxation was imposed which could not be claimed to be legitimate, then it was time that the people brought Ministers up with a round turn. Any tax that pressed upon any one section of the community was unjust, and when they had instances of lavish extravagance in Government departments it was not reasonable to expect the people to contribute from their earnings. One of the lessons taught in connection with the present demand was that the people themselves had displayed so much apathy in returning men to Parliament opposed to such a measure, with the result that the tax was being enforced. Another feature was the action of those members in the Upper House who had paid no heed to the mandate of the people. It was necessary that the Treasurer should be able to balance the state ledger, and the exigencies of the state demanded that the deficit should be wiped out. One section of the Launceston press advised a passive resistance to the payment of the tax, but he thought that was not the right kind of advice to give. It was all very well to talk about passive resistance, but it would be an entirely different thing when the minions of the law walked into their houses. He considered that the tax would have to be paid this year, but if imposed again, then he would counsel an active resistance, and he hoped that the meetings to be held would lead to the repeal of the tax. Time should be given people where necessary to pay the tax. To his mind the first thing the electors had to do was to have a reckoning with the Legislative Council. It had been shown that the tax would yield £34,000 more than was required, and that in itself was sufficient condemnation of the impost. It would not be long before the electors would have the opportunity of reorganising the personnel of the Legislative Council, in which chamber there appeared to be men who had no sympathy whatever with the people. They might be brainy men, but they were evidently opposed to anything in the shape of reform, and were devoid of consideration for the great mass of electors, who, to mark their disapproval of such conduct, would no doubt give such legislative councillors their walking tickets. The present tax would be felt most keenly by those who were least able to bear the burden, and to many homes it would mean oppression. It was their duty to see that the poor were not oppressed. The Master himself had declared against laws which were not fair and just, and it behoved those in authority to carry out the injunctions of the Great Teacher.

That sermon was the subject of an interesting review, almost like a drama review for afficionados of religious services, in the Launceston Examiner, from which I take the following excerpt:

Around the Churches.

by Ubique

Rev. John Bongers on the Income Tax.

…The usual “long prayer” followed, and again I was struck by the flavour of old-time Puritanism, this time especially in the cast of thought, which seemed to hold the condition of this life as irretrievably sad if not hopeless, only to be brightened by the “compensations beyond”; and the idea of time as some thing apart from, instead of a part of, “the great eternity.” The latter part of the prayer was evidently preparatory to the sermon, for the leader referred to the present as a time of “grave anxiety and fear hovering over many a home”; and the petition for our legislators was emphatic in desiring that they might be granted such wisdom as would prevent their “making such mistakes as would bring disaster upon the people”; while the whole reference concluded with the expression of a desire that “our worst fears may be averted.”

“Free-will offerings” was the title given to the erstwhile “collection,” during which the choir rendered the anthem, “O Worship the Lord.” Another hymn, and we seated ourselves to listen to a sermon on the published subject — “The Income Tax: Payment or Passive Resistance?”

I am bound to say that what we heard was not a sermon. As Mr. Bongers is not widely known in Launceston, I regretted this, as it deprived me of the opportunity of describing his methods in discharging his legitimate duties as a teacher of Divine things. Every man placed in the responsible position which Mr. Bongers occupies must answer to his own conscience and Master as to the message he delivers to those who hear him, but one may be permitted to doubt whether it is not an error of judgment to step into a pulpit on a Sunday evening and deliver from thence — where no one has the right of reply — a political harangue on a burning question of the day. The preacher is a religious and theological teacher and guide, and as such he has a right to be heard in silence, and is protected in that right by the law of the land. But in the realm of politics, the man-in-the-street knows as much and is as capable of forming an opinion as is the preacher — perhaps more capable — and has as much right to speak and to be heard. Politics are matters for public and free discussion, and when a man enters the arena he has no right to close the mouths of those who think differently from himself. But this is precisely what the preacher does. It is true Mr. Bongers, who spoke from the words, “Render therefore under Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” pleaded that this question of the income tax closely affects the material comfort of the people, and that if the churches would succeed in winning the sympathies of the said people they, must interest themselves in social end economic questions. It is true too that Mr. Bangers founded himself on the declaration of the Christ, that He came in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” I think it was the late Henry Ward Beecher, who described this as “the ordination sermon of Jesus”; but with all due respect to Mr. Bangers, I cannot for the life of me see how the address of was “enjoined upon a perpetuator of Christ’s ministry” in obedience to such an ideal, nor how Mr. Bongers’s sermon is an example of the church’s interest in economics. Two thirds of Mr. Bongers’s address would have been admirably adapted to meet the needs of the coming indignation meeting, and I for one cannot help regretting that the time and place of that meeting were not chosen for its deliverance.

I do not propose to go into the details of the address, reference to which was made in the columns of ’s “Examiner.” Briefly put, Mr. Bongers’s advice was not passive, but active resistance — first pay the tax, then turn the Council out, and choose the proper men to represent the public wishes in Parliament, We were exhorted to “fetch Ministers up with a round turn,” and to visit with “political death” members who had not done their duty in this matter. Further, Mr. Bongers illustrated the attitude he wishes us to adopt by the story of a burglar and a lady in Sydney. The burglar having entered the lady’s house uninvited, was met by the hostess with active, not passive resistance, in the shape of a loaded revolver, and when he took a hurried departure we were assured he carried nothing away with, him that did not belong to him, “except the lead.” Later on Mr. Bongers urged the people with threefold advice (1) to avail themselves of the opportunities of objecting to pay provided by the many inaccuracies in the demand, (2) to ask that time be allowed for payment, and (3) to appeal to the Ministry to summon Parliament to meet at an early date, and in the meantime to refrain from imposing penalties for non-payment.

In his references to the action to be taken against sitting members, Mr. Bongers said “This touches Launceston closely,” and urged us to “set friend ship and sentiment aside, and do our duty, for,” said he, “some will have to accept their walking tickets.”

In concluding, the preacher endeavoured to turn the political into a religious deliverance, but the attempt was not a success. One sentence was worthy of note: — “Love is the great economist, whose weights and measures rule in heaven.”

No; in my humble judgment it is a mistake, and a dangerous mistake, to use the fended pulpit as a platform for partisan political propaganda. I may heartily endorse Mr. Bongers’s advice, but not the occasion of its deliverance.

R.J. Wilkinson wrote a letter-to-the-editor about the mass meeting, which appeared in the Zeehan and Dundas Herald:

Income Tax.

Sir, — The open-air meeting held last week, when some 300 citizens pledged themselves to passive resistance in regard to the tax which the Legislative Council demand shall be paid, has been the means of awakening the people. It is gratifying to see that we here, in Zeeban, in this case, as in many others, lead the way of passive resistance to the illegal and unjust demands of the dead house. The action of the member for George Town, Mr A.J. Jenson, in calling on the electors of his district not to pay the tax until every effort had been made to have it withdrawn, and in moving a vote of thanks, to those who called the meeting are worthy of commendation, we here must not fall back in our enthusiasm on this matter. If we neglect to do our duty on this important occasion we shall assuredly suffer for it. Your very able leader of to-day should be read and carefully studied by every man and woman in Zeehan, and I do hope that we will again meet to solemnly declare passive resistance. On that occasion, as in the past, my voice and all the energy I possess will be spent in the path of duty. Let us have a shaking among the dry bones in Hobart during the coming week. — Yours, etc.,

R.J. Wilkinson.

On , the chairman of the Queenstown Town Board called a public meeting to discuss their response to the income tax. It “was crowded to the doors,” reported the Zeehan and Dundas Herald, “every one present appearing unanimous to resist the demands made on them.” Some excerpts from that article:

[W.H. Taylour argued that the new government had no mandate from the people to inflict such a tax, and neither did they have any budgetary necessity for one. The government bureaucracy had grown too large, and efforts to rein it in had been half-hearted and incompetent.]

With respect to the Propsting Government he would say a few words. He had been looking forward to a Government who would show the Legislative Council that they must not be chocks in the wheel of progress. No Government ever had such an opportunity to show the backbone they were possessed of, and step in and adopt the Constitutional method of refusing to vote supplies. That idea did not come from a fevered imagination. It they consulted any work on political law they would find it set down that the way to bring the gentlemen who were in the Upper House to their bearings was to cease to vote supplies.…

…As to the income tax… He was certain, as he had said before, that there was nobody who wanted to shirk his just payment towards the upkeep of the State. But when they knew the wealthy people of the State did not pay in accordance with their ability, then it was time for them to rise up and say they would not pay. (Loud applause, and “Quite right.”) It was no use sending in resolutions unless they were determined to stand shoulder to shoulder. (Applause.) Unquestionably, the big landholders in the State did not pay their fair proportion towards the upkeep of the State. Were they — the people — going to sit down gently and pay the income tax and deprive their wives and families of what they wanted? (Loud cries of “No.”)

[Taylour then proposed a motion protesting against the income tax.]

Mr. A.A. Winch said it gave him great pleasure to second the motion… he went on to say that so far as he was concerned he was not going to pay the income tax till he was forced. (Loud applause) He would go before the tribunals of his country to protest against such an unjust tax (Loud applause.) The resolution was thereupon put by the Chairman, and carried unanimously…

Mr. Archd. Douglas said… that he was credibly informed from Hobart that the Government, although they were sending out the demands to the people, they hoped the people would not pay. That was rather an astounding statement, but he perfectly believed it, (Loud applause.) The motion he was to move that evening runs :— “That the people of Queenstown, in public meeting assembled, respectfully request the Government to recall Parliament at the earliest possible date to introduce another Bill for the abolition of the unjust personal exertion tax, and in the meanwhile to refrain from enforcing the penal provision of the Income Tax Act.” The latter part of the motion was for the purpose of of gaining time, and doubtless the Propsting Government would see on which side their bread was buttered, and would repeal the tax. They could depend on it that what he said in reference to the Government’s anxiety that the tax should not be paid would not be very far out. (Applause.)

Mr W.H. Candy seconded the resolution in a most earnest and forcible speech, and his utterances were loudly applauded.

The motion was put and carried in just the same unanimous manner as the previous one.

The Launceston Examiner surveyed the attitudes of Launceston and its representatives on the question, and included this note:

Mr. Long has advised his Mount Lyell constituents not to pay, but this is an attitude that cannot be supported, since it is a direct incentive to defy the law, and he should be one of the last to advise that course.

Another public meeting was held in Launceston on , which “resolved in favor of Parliament being called together, and resisting the payment of the tax.” Some more details, from the Hobart Mercury:

Mr. W.C. Wilson said it was useless talking passive resistance; when the same thing was said about the Western Railway rate, those who talked most were the first to succumb. The income tax was now the law of the land. (A voice: “No, it’s the law of the Legislative Council.”)

Mr. John Shepherd said that he had lived in the Western Railway district, and that resistance to the rate was effectual.

(For more on the Western Railway tax strike in , see The Picket Line for )

Mr. Metz moved, — “That until such time as the Government complies with the request of the people by calling Parliament together, this meeting pledges itself to resist to the utmost the payment of income tax on personal exertion.”

Mr. Shepherd seconded the motion.

Mr. Wilson said, as a justice of the peace, he could not vote for the resolution.

Mr Storrer said that they pledged themselves to resist only while Parliament was not called together.

The resolution was carried.

A bit later on…

Income Tax.

Passive Resistance.

The local branch of the Workers’ Political League has resolved to passively resist the payment of the income tax.

Another article, about a meeting held earlier in Mathinna, had Workers’ Political League vice-president, Mr. Sagg, urging the crowd to resist payment, and said that the meeting had unanimously carried a resolution “That we as a body pledge ourselves not to pay the income tax.”