Tax Resistance in Australia

Google got off to a great start digitizing old newspapers, and then ran out of enthusiasm for the project, alas. The Trove project is doing good work with old Australian newspapers, though, and they allow their users to correct the mistakes made by optical character recognition software when scanning the old microfilm images, so over time the database will become more searchable.

Today I’ll reproduce some of the articles from this database, concerning various tax resistance campaigns and feints in Australia. First, this article from the Australasian Chronicle:

Taxation Without Representation.

Whatever improvements may be made in our body politic during the present session of council, one determination seems to pervade the minds of those at the helm of affairs — a determination to tax the colonists both in town and country. In addition to the bill for instituting corporations, with the provisions of which our readers are already acquainted, the Governor has brought forward another bill, for the purpose of appointing rural corporations, under the name of Police Commissioners, with power to levy rates for the support of police and the improvement of roads, &c.

Now, as we have before said in reference to the Corporations Bill, we think this altogether premature, as it is certainly contrary to the principles of the British constitution. In the worst times of English history we find that the representatives of the people were extremely jealous of anything in the shape of taxation which was levied without their consent; and since that period of history, during which the British government has been conducted upon something like fixed principles, the representatives of the people have exercised the sole right of disposing of all money bills. We have moreover the best legal authority, as quoted by his Honor Chief Justice Dowling, last session, that an English man, go where he will, carries with him the constitution of his country, with all the privileges which it secures for him. If this be true, then, we ask, by what right does Sir George Gipps require the people of this colony to submit to direct taxation, destitute as they are of any thing like representative government?

It appears that his Excellency, or his advisers, have forgotten the cause of the American revolt, which ended in the overthrow of British sway after years of angry feelings and civil war; and, although it may be said that in the present case the tax is small, and would be for our good — we stop not to discuss this matter — it is for the principle we contend. The tax resisted by [John] Hampden was only of small amount. Had it been a farthing instead of a pound he would have resisted it; for he contended, as we do, not for great or small details, but for right — the right of free-born subjects to be taxed by their representatives, and by them alone. “Without representation, no taxation.” Once depart from this maxim, and, no matter how small the present demand, we allow the Governor to insert his wedge in the block; how far it may ultimately penetrate will depend upon the force which he brings to bear upon it. In other words, consent to taxation without representation, and you open a door through which arbitrary will can stalk in, whatever shape or guise it may please to assume. Sir George has no doubt read the fable of the horse, the stag, and the man. The horse was at enmity with the stag, and entreated the man to assist him to catch and conquer him. He did so; the horse thanked the man for his assistance, and requested to be released. “Oh! no, my friend,” said the man, “you have boon so useful on this occasion, I must retain you for my service.” It is in this way his Excellency calls upon the Legislative Council to pass his unconstitutional bills, in order, he says, to recommend the colony to the Home Government, and “prove that we are worthy of a representative assembly.” Let the Council pass these bills, say we, and the Home Government will “retain it for further service.” Depend upon it, the British Ministry will not readily part with so obsequious a a body, to give place to one which would not, assuredly, prove so easy of management. We have another plan which we would recommend to Members of Council, by which they may prove to the Home Government that the colony is “worthy of being entrusted with a legislative assembly.” We would say to the independent Members — Prove that you know the rights of free British subjects; throw out the Ordnance Bill, and the Municipal Bill, and the Police Commissioners Bill, as involving subjects which can only be settled by the representatives of the people; and you will thereby prove effectually that you are worthy of freedom, and know its value. On the other hand, should these bills pass in their present state, we would advise the colonists to refuse the payment (unless under the extreme penalty of the law) of a single farthing levied under the two last mentioned Acts. We maintain that this may be safely done, upon the acknowledged principle of “no taxation without representation;” and we are convinced that this constitutional system of passive resistance would prove beyond measure more convincing to the Home Government that we are worthy of possessing our rights, than the plan proposed by his Excellency, of submitting tamely to be taxed in such manner as he or they may choose to dictate. But more of this anon.

This next comes from the Colonial Times (excerpts):

A monster meeting had been held at Castlemaine, Capt. Trewartha in the chair, advocating passive resistance to the license tax. The following resolutions were unanimously adopted:—

That as the Legislature have taken no satisfactory steps to redress the grievances of the residents on the gold fields, this meeting protests against the injury done them, and resolves to take out no more licenses for gold digging, and to quietly abide the consequences; and as it is necessary that the diggers should know their friends, every miner agrees to wear as a pledge of good faith, and in support of the cause, a piece of red ribbon on his hat, not to be removed until the license tax is abolished.

That as all men are born free and equal, this meeting claims their right to a voice in the framing and passing of laws which they are called upon to obey; and look upon nomineeism as a compromise of their just rights, and will not accept as a gift that which is their inherent right, and will have nothing short of their full and fair share in the representation of the country.

That as the public lands belong by right to the people, and were given by the Creator for the use of man, and cannot, with justice, be alienated from him, this meeting declares that the government cannot any longer, with propriety, withhold them from the people; that the present pernicious land system should, with delay, be abrogated, and the standing orders in Council revoked.

That this meeting resolves to unite with the people on the various gold-fields, and of the towns of Melbourne and Geelong, in every just effort to secure their rights.

That this meeting indignantly protests against the violent and illegal resort to arms on the part of the Government against the people of Ballarat, and the hostile attitude assumed by them towards the naturally peaceably disposed and industrious inhabitants of the gold fields, by placing them illegally under martial law, and deliberately records its unalterably fixed determination, in the event of the Government refusing to immediately withdraw the military from all the diggings, to use every just means within its power to obtain their sacred and inalienable rights.

That in the opinion of this meeting the late disturbances at Ballarat have been entirely occasioned by the exasperating and imprudent conduct of the authorities; that the men who are at present in custody should immediately be liberated, and that the Government should alone be held responsible for the consequence.

That for the purpose of carrying out the foregoing resolutions, and as soon as the necessary steps shall have been taken for organising and uniting all the gold-fields with the cities and towns, a great national conference be held in Melbourne, to secure the full and free rights of our adopted country — Australia.

That a committee be elected for the purpose of corresponding with the other gold fields, and of carrying out the objects of the Gold-Fields Reform League.

That this meeting from their very souls sympathise with the true men of the people who are unjustly imprisoned for taking part in the late out-break and also desire to publicly express their esteem for the memory of the brave men who have fallen in battle, and that to shew their respect every digger and their friends do wear tomorrow () a band of black crape on his hat, and in their public and prívate devotions remember the widows and orphans of the dead warriors.

The resolutions were all received with a great deal of cheering, except the last, on the reading of which, every hat was lifted from the head with an expression of deep reverence.

It was explained that the rule of action to be adopted was this:— If the police went round to search for licenses, no resistance would be offered, as they were simply executive officers, but on an arrest taking place it should be reported to the committee by the nearest observer; they would immediately call a monster meeting, and the whole of the people would deliver themselves into custody. The men of Bendigo it was said meant to abide by the consequences of that resolution. If the people of Forest Creek thought it was right, they would adopt it, so that there should be united action on all the gold fields of the colony.

Next, from the Adelaide Register:

Unpaid Income Tax.

Mayor’s Passive Resistance.


On , before Mr. E.C. Playford, S.M., Robert Toupein (Mayor of Darwin) was charged on an unsatisfied judgment summons with the nonpayment of his income tax. Defendant admitted owing the money, but stated that he declined on principle to pay taxation until people resident in the Northern Territory were granted political representation. An order was made for payment forthwith, but no payment has yet been made.

Next, from the Adelaide Register (excerpt):

Tax Resisters Prosecuted.

Recent threats from residents of the Northern Territory that they will refuse to pay taxes until they have been given the right to send a representative to the Federal Parliament, have had little effect on the authorities, and in the Court at Darwin to-morrow a batch of property owners will be called to pay or give reasons why they should be excused. Not all residents have taken up this defiant attitude, and the Secretary to the Department for Home and Territories (Mr. J.G. McLaren) said on Saturday that the large holders of land paid without demur.…

Next, from the Melbourne Argus:

Income Tax Resisters.

Court Orders Imprisonment.

, . — Several leading unionists were before the Court on charges of not having paid their income tax, and were ordered to be imprisoned for 28 days, without hard labour. The order for committal has not yet been put in execution, and the defendants are still at large.

Next, from the Broken Hill Barrier Miner:

Passive Resistance at Darwin

More Residents Gaoled for Refusing to Pay Tax

Sydney Labor Council Acts

Sydney, .

The New South Wales Trades and Labor Council carried a motion of protest against the imprisonment of a number of residents at Port Darwin for refusing to pay Federal income tax.

This action was taken in response to the following wire from union officials at Darwin:— “Eleven more residents appeared before the court to-day for refusing to pay tax until they receive representation. Mr. Nelson (secretary of the A.W.U.), Mr. Brennan (secretary of the A.M.I.E.U.), and four others, received 28 days’ gaol. The other cases were adjourned. We call upon the council to hold public protest meetings; also to raise subscriptions to carry on the fight. Nine men are now in prison, seven of whom have young families. More prosecutions are to follow. Of the imprisoned men four are leading speakers, while the rest are committeemen.”

Next, from the Brisbane Courier:

Resistance to Income Tax.

, .

The western miners will probably soon sound a call to arms, as the whole of the lodges in the west are being asked to express an opinion as follows: “That we, members of the western district of the Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation, ask the general secretary to get into touch with the executive officers of all industrial organisations in Australia, with a view of obtaining co-operation in refusing to pay State or Federal income tax on wages of £300 or under per annum; also, in the event of a motion being carried, and any member being sent to prison for refusing to pay, that all unionists be called on immediately to stop work, and refuse to recommence until such member is released, or the garnished money is refunded.”

Next, from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Resisting Income Tax.

Higher Exemption Wanted.

Miners’ Decision.

, .

So far all the western miners’ lodges which have dealt with the proposal to exercise passive resistance to the income tax, unless the exemption is raised to £300, have unanimously endorsed the scheme.

Only two lodges have yet to deal with the matter, after which the proposal will be sent to the general secretary of the federation for endorsement by the central council.

The secretaries of all the industrial organisations in Australia will be written to and requested to resist payment of both Federal and State taxes unless the exemption is raised.

Next, from the Perth West Australian:

Territory Taxation.

The Resistance Campaign.

Darwin. .

In the Darwin Local Court. to-day, before a Special Magistrate (Mr. Playford) five people were charged with refusing to pay their income tax. Four of the cases were adjourned at the request of the Taxation Commissioner’s solicitor, who was up country. The Magistrate granted an adjournment without hearing the defendants. In the remaining case the defendant received the maximum penalty of forty days’ imprisonment. The total number of residents imprisoned for refusal to pay income tax is now twenty of whom seven are in prison. The ex-Mayor (Mr. Toupin) and Mr. Bakling, who was appointed by the Government to the Northern Territory Food Prices Board, were released this morning.

Finally, from the Darwin Northern Standard:

Unfortunate Humorist.

Joe Cook is a most unfortunate humorist. Speaking of the Lithgow miners’ passive resistance to income tax unless the exemption is raised to at least £300, Joseph said he “would himself be a passive resister if he thought it would be any good.” What an inspiration to public-spiritedness! How well calculated to make a Lithgow miner feel ashamed of himself to be told that the Treasurer of the Commonwealth would gladly evade the income-tax if he could!