The purpose of this Bill is to apply the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, to the present financial year. As Senators are aware, the 1946 Act applied to the two financial years 1946-47 and 1947-48, and has been continued since then by means of continuing Acts on the lines of the present Bill.
I am sure that Senators are familiar with the principles underlying this measure. The policy of relieving the farming community of part of the rate levy dates from the Local Government Act of 1898, under which a fixed grant of £599,011 was made each year for this purpose. The amount of the grant was doubled in 1925, and was varied later by further enactments until it was stabilised in 1935-36 at the figure of £1,870,000. The grant remained stationary at this figure for 11 years, that is, up to and including the financial year 1945-46.
The Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, came into operation in the financial year 1946-47 and made the fundamental change that instead of a grant of a fixed sum, the amount to be provided would vary automatically with variations in the general rate. Under that Act, the rate relief is given on the following basis:—
(1) A primary allowance at the rate of three-fifths of the general rate on land valuations not exceeding £20, and the first £20 of higher valuations;
(2) a supplementary allowance of one-fifth of the general rate on the whole of the land valuation exceeding £20, and
(3) an employment allowance calculated at the rate of 10/- in the £ on the land valuation above £20, subject to the limitation that the allowance does not exceed £6 10s. in respect of each man at work.
The effect of substituting this new method of calculating the amount of the grant was that, instead of the fixed sum of £1,870,000 which was paid in the preceding 11 years, the grant for the year 1946-47 increased to £2,910,378. Each year since then there has been a further increase, the figure for 1949-50 being £3,971,722.
The extent of the rate relief afforded by the grant will be obvious when we consider that although the average gross rate in the £ in county health districts for the year 1949-50 was 22/7¾, the average net rate on agricultural land was 11/3½; or to put it in another way, the rates payable by farmers were slightly less than half what they would otherwise have been.
The amount which will be payable by way of agricultural grant in the present financial year cannot be definitely ascertained until the last few months of the year, but as the average general rate in the £ in county health districts is about the same as last year's figure, I expect that the grant will be roughly equal to the figure for 1949-50, that is £3,971,722.
The Bill now before the House does not contain any new principle. It merely proposes to continue the agricultural grant on its existing basis for the present financial year. As Senators are familiar with the principles on which this measure is based, and have accepted these principles on a number of occasions, I do not think it will be necessary for me to deal with the matter in any greater detail at this stage.