Tax Resistance in Australian Labor and Political Struggles

I learned today about The Australian Newspapers Digitization Program. It’s just getting started, but naturally I did a little hunting.

(The optical character recognition they’re using is pretty sub-par, or perhaps it’s the quality of their scans that’s the problem. But they’ve taken an approach that I haven’t before seen in on-line digitalization of newspaper archives — they’re inviting users to proofread and correct these automated transcriptions, wiki-style. So over time the archive may improve in quality.)

I found this article from the edition of The Argus about the meeting of a union of unions in New South-Wales devoted to the overthrow of the capitalist state.

The Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia submitted a motion calling for tax resistance — a tactic I haven’t seen much evidence of in the labor movement otherwise (though it was a tactic of Marx-aligned democrats in Germany, and of anti-Czarist revolutionaries in Russia):

[Resolved] That the working class movement throughout Australia refuse to pay State and Federal income taxes on incomes of £500 or under that amount per annum.

The motion passed. An article in the same paper reported that some union activists had already started using tax resistance in the Northern Territory:

Eight cases for the non-payment of income tax were heard . The following were sent to gaol for 28 days:— James Fitzgerald, R.H. Green, K. Spain, John O’Neill, Albert Colley, R.J. Doling. They all admitted having the means, but declined to pay. The defendants are well-known unionists.

One group of miners’ unions took up a similar tax resistance proposal and went further: “It is also suggested that if any member is imprisoned, or has his wages garnisheed, for refusing to pay tax, a general strike will be declared until the member is released, or his money refunded.“

Tax resistance was also used as a protest against the second-class political status of the Northern Territory, and against the government’s crackdown on civil liberties (which was related to the radical union agitation).

Many resisters were jailed, and the resistance was widespread — including even the mayor of Darwin, Robert Toupein. According to one report:

It has been stated that early in Toupein admitted, in open Court, that the tax was owing, that he had ample means to pay it, but that he would not pay a penny. His refusal, it is stated, was because of “no representation” in the Federal Parliament. No step was taken to enforce the order of the Court, as the police force was inadequate to stand up to any resistance. It is even alleged that some Government servants have paid no income tax for two years.

Failure to prosecute the former mayor will surely raise a protest from residents of the Territory who have paid their taxes regularly. By some it is contended that the Government has adopted the line of least resistance, and refrained from collecting the thousands of pounds due only to obviate all risk of disturbance.

A Northern Territory Times and Gazette article covered a strategy meeting of activists. Excerpts:

Mr. Hardie Gibson, who followed, dealt chiefly with the payment of income tax, and referred to the anomaly of residents of the Northern Territory being asked to contribute towards the cost of their own coercion, and the upkeep of a most despotic regime. Mr. R.M. Balding briefly endorsed Mr. Hardie Gibson’s remarks, and stated that, if the men of the Northern Territory were true to their own interests, the Fannie Bay penal establishment would have to be considerably enlarged before it could hold all those who refused to pay income tax.… With regard to income tax, those who purpose resisting payment thereof were asked to affix their signature to lists which will be prepared and left at certain business places for that purpose.

Papua took this example to heart and started its own “no taxation without representation” tax resistance protest. Excerpts from a Papuan Courrier article:

The question, paramount above all others in the present and future, is whether Papuan residents are to sit quiescent and then take the objectionable medicine of taxation without representation which is being forced upon them without a say in its expenditure and without a voice in Parliament. We have been informed that but 10 per cent of the population of Papua have rendered returns. Are the other 90 per cent going to sit idly by and allow this insult to their intelligence without a protest? One victim of this iniquitious impost whose income runs to four figures, has stated definitely that he will not pay the tax. Dozens of others are murmuring threats at the Commonwealth’s refusal to grant us the franchise, and have averred that they will suffer imprisonment rather pay. The many scandals which have been ventilated, together with other performances, information of which has been suppressed, but which are gradually coming into the light of day and deserve opprobious censure, have caused the feeling that we should have some say in the spending of any moneys paid by us to the Commonwealth Treasury.

One thing and one only is our present demand — Elective representation and no taxation without it.

“The Courier,” as evidence of its bona fides on the question, has decided, to form a fund for the defence of any resident who may by victimised, persecuted, or prosecuted for failure to pay the tax, and to that end we open the list with a contribution of Five Guineas. Every white resident throughout Papua is asked to rally to the support of the movement — No taxation without representation.

The government responded to such unrest by passing legislation that would “provide for the abolition of juries in all trials except for capital cases; for fines amounting to £50 for disturbing public meetings; deportation of persons who refuse to pay income tax and prevention of the return of such persons to the Territory.”

Here’s another strategy meeting report:

Taxation Without Representation

A public meeting convened by the Northern Territory Industrial Council at the instance of the Darwin branch of the Australian Workers Union was held in the Don Stadium on . The subject for discussion was: — “Taxation without Representation,[”] with the object of inaugurating some concerted movement as a protest against such taxation. Mr. J. Thomas, chairman of the industrial council occupied tho chair. Among the speakers were Messrs. W. Blount, Hardie Gibson, Alf. Paine, Tom M’Donald and J. M’Donald.

It was moved by Mr. Alf. Paine, and seconded by Mr. T. M’Grath, “That we citizens of Darwin refuse to pay any taxation until we receive representation.”

An amendment was moved by Mr. T. M’Donald, seconded by Mr. J.J. M’Donald: — “That this meeting of Darwin citizens condemns the injustice of taxation without representation, and calls upon the Minister through the Director of the Territory to withdraw all summonses on this head pending the question of taxation as it effects the Territory being fully discussed, and that we protest against the system of garnishee as set forth in section 50a of the Income Tax Assessment Act of , and we warn the employers of Darwin that any attempt to put it into force from this date onwards will lead to industrial trouble.”

A division was taken, and the amendment was carried by a majority of at least three to one.

A further resolution was passed that the members of the Advisory Council place the above motion before the Director of the Northern Territory.

(A Contributed Report.)

The following is a resume of the speeches delivered at the public meeting on :

Mr. Blunt (Executive Council A.W.U.) said the present struggle reminded him of the fight for liberty in , and , a struggle which he thought would never occur again in the history of Australia. He referred to the fight in which the machinery of the Coercion Act was used against them, to the rise and progress of the Australian Labor Party, the fight for adult suffrage, and never thought he would again be called upon to participate in a fight for representation in his own country. For ten years the Territory had been under the control of an Administrator, and very little was known of the country. Presuming that the country’s chief industry was stock-raising, the government appeared to think that the Territory’s best interests would be served by the appointment of a veterinary surgeon as Administrator at a salary of £2000 a year. But every effort made for the advancement of the interests of the Territory was passed out by Gilruth. The ballot box, a boasted institution throughout the British Empire, was not here, and the situation was irksome to any man, but especially to those who had enjoyed that privilege in other parts. Every man had a rightful claim to a say as to in what manner the country should be governed, and how their money was to be spent. Here in the Northern Territory they had, however, direct taxation without any form of representation — an unjust condition of affairs which brought on a feeling of antagonism to all forms of government. The conduct of the Government was rapidly creating in the Territory a strong feeling of antagonism to all forms of Government. We had a striking example of a similar instance when the British attempted to force the Americans to pay taxes without representation, with the result that the United States of American sprang into existence. He referred to the proposal by the British in the American war of independence, to let loose the Red Indians on the Americans, and to the statement by Pitt in the House of Commons “Shame on them! They would not be British if they would not fight for their independence.” Pitt gloried in the Americans in their struggle. How could a country be honestly governed if the people had no say? Common sense must tell them that where the government of a country rested in the hands of two or three people, they would govern it in their own interests and not in the interests of the people. They wanted the Government of the Territory more in the hands of the people and he held that in the local population sufficient brains could be found without sending 3000 miles away down south.

Mr. Burton, a returned soldier and President of the Darwin Branch A.W.U., endorsed the remarks of the previous speaker. He was one of those men who had left this country to fight for freedom on the other side of the world. Each and every one of those countries engaged in that bitter war, even the unspeakable Turk, had representation in the Government of his country. Now he had come back to his own country to find himself placed on the level of a blackfellow or a Chinaman. He had no vote. The Germans would have treated him better.

Mr. Gibson (A.M.I.E.U.) referred to the agitation in Papua where a strong fight was being made against the injustice of taxation without representation. Territorians must keep up their reputation and not allow Papua to lead the way. He pointed out one unjust phase of the question as affecting the Territory in the fact that the Arbitration Court in New South Wales had ruled that an ordinary unskilled laborer required not less than 12s per day as a living wage, and was exempted accordingly. In Queensland the minimum wage Was £200 per annum, but if living was £50 per annum dearer in Queensland than in Sydney a further exemption of £50 above Queensland should be allowed in Darwin. He was afraid that pressing for payment of the tax would create a revolt in the Territory and he counselled first to endeavour to obtain their end by peaceful means. Don’t refuse to pay your taxation, but don’t break your necks running up to the office to pay for fear of a blister. In other words he counselled passive resistance to see how far the authorities were prepared to go. They would pick their marks as was done in the cass of the Mayor, but when the final move was made he would not be in the rear. He did not want trouble like they had last year, he could not see the necessity for it, but unless the Government adopted different methods they would spread the seeds of Bolshevism faster than by any other method. The Government had hounded men out of jobs they had occupied for years, and when these unfortunate men again got a job the Government came down with a blister to take their money back again. Another unfair point: An unskilled laborer may earn £150 in 14 weeks at the meatworks. The exemption being £56 he would have to pay taxation on the £94 despite the fact that he may be unemployed for the rest of the year.

Mr. Bollon: We have held meeting after meeting and what good did it do? A few men hopping over the fence at Gilruth finished things at once. We should absolutely refuse to pay the tax until representation was granted. (Applause.)

Mr. T. M’Donald said the attitude of the people was not so much against the tax — it was a question of taxation without representation. In all countries a certain amount of representation was given before the people were required to pay the tax, and here in the Commonwcaltih all the States had representation in Parliament, the Northern Territory being the only exception. He recognised that they were up against the Commonwealth Government, and was not anxious to cause trouble. They should be able to get along without trouble or with the least possible trouble, and he suggested that the Director of the Territory be asked to keep back summonses until the people have had a chance to discuss the matter and see what basis could be arrived at to pay the taxes.

Mr. Paine said he had moved at the A.W.U. meeting that those present pledge themselves not to pay the tax till representation was granted. He had been asked to modify the motion but refused to do so. They should [pay?] nothing, but sit tight and let the Government do their best. Hang out — stick to it!

Mr. Culliney: Can you tell us what to do if they put the bailiff in? It is all very well to lead us into the forest, but who is to lead us out?

Mr. Paine said the bailiff was a tough question, but if none would pay, no one would compel him.

Mr. Balding said he had refused to pay 12 months ago. Since then he had had numerous notices from the Government through the post. A Government officer had been instructed to stop the amount out of his pay, but he had challenged them to do so without an order from the Court despite the fact that he had got a barrister’s opinion that they could legally do so.

In answer to a question Mr. Gibson said the Act was rotten and ought to be passed out of the country along with the party that passed it.

The Mayor Before the Court.

On , before Mr. E.C. Playford, S.M., Robert Toupein, Mayor of Darwin, was charged on an unsatisfied judgment summons, by the Commissioner of Taxation, for whom Mr. D.A. Roberts appeared, with non-payment of income tax. Defendant, who went into the witness box, admitted owing the amount, but stated that he declined, on principle, to pay income tax until such time as political representation was granted to the Northern Territory. An order was made for payment forthwith, but, so far as we have been able to ascertain, payment has not yet been made.

A brief Argus article reported on the tax resistance campaign in the Indian independence movement:

Villages Evacuated.


Refusal to Pay Taxes.

Effect of New Indian Law.

The agriculturalists of 25 villages in the Bardoli district, the centre of the “no tax” movement in West India, made a dramatic evacuation as a protest against the new unlawful association ordinance. The district, which has an area of 222 square miles and a population of 82,000 agriculturalists, is, on account of the congress agitation for non-payment of taxes, three years in arrears, the amount involved being £18,800.

When the ordinance was applied the villagers anticipated the measures for the attachment of their property, and when the tax officers arrived they found only deserted villages. The inhabitants had left, taking everything movable, including the newly harvested rice crop, household goods, and cattle. It was discovered that the villagers had been secretly removing goods and crops by night across the border into Baroda State territory, where the Baroda villagers harboured and helped them.

I look forward to seeing more Chicago newspaper archives become freely available some day, but until then, we can get peeks at some of the coverage of the large-scale property tax strike of the 1930s there in articles like this one from The Argus.

One brief note covered a spontaneous, cross-cultural tax resistance effort in :


Australian passengers on the Orion refused to pay the 7/11 landing tax at Port Said to Egyptian quarantine officials and threatened to remain on board. Shopkeepers, realising that they were losing trade, surrounded the officials with waving fists and the tax was waived.

The quarantine men imposed the tax recently as part of an anti-British campaign.

A dispatch from Melbourne noted that “[b]etween 500 and 600 young men refused to pay the amusement tax at the Stadium last night to witness a boxing match between Edwards and Palmer. They were patrons of the lower-priced seats. The manager of the Stadium argued with the spokesmen for the crowd for some time, but neither side would yield, and the result was that the attendance was much smaller than usual.”

And here’s a story that will warm the hearts of those pining for an offshore tax haven to call their own:


Islanders living off Galway County refuse to pay their taxes and the County Council does not know what to do. In the case of some islands off the coast no person can be found, even with the offer of very attractive remuneration, to undertake the position of collector, and where collectors are available on the mainland owners of boats have refused to facilitate their passage to the islands.

On a few occasions the Civic Guards have persuaded the owners to lend their service and their boats, or their boats alone, for the guards to cross. In such cases the guards have met with anything but a cordial reception.