SIR ROBERT’S LEGACY
Sir Robert scanned Australia vast
So sparsely populated
“O something must be done”, said he
To get folk immigrated.
I’ll tax the toilers more and more
To get my plan in motion
And I will trot across the globe
To coax men o’er the ocean
Sir Robert raised the income tax
The school books got their levy
He burdened most consumer goods
With duties huge and heavy
The big landholders grinned with mirth
And said the scheme was clever
They knew land values would increase
Without their own endeavour.
As migrants by the million came
They needed land for tillage
The owners asked them such a price
‘Twas nothing else but pillage
Among the men who owned the land
Great fortunes cumulated
The landless peoples’ lot grew worse
Their needs were aggravated
“I’ll help the newly weds,” said Bob
To show I’m philanthropic
I’ll grant them all three hundred pounds
This proved him most myopic.
The fellows who owned all the land
Half split their sides with laughter
They could demand three hundred more
For blocks of land hereafter
Sir Robert said I’ll build new roads
And smear the land with phosphorus
Improve the railways and the ports
And make Australia prosp’rous
The workers had to foot the bills
He took their cash in slices
The speculators were enriched
As land advanced in prices.
The land went into fewer hands
The estate business flourished
The workers’ bankbooks and their kids
Went sadly undernourished.
As agricultural land grew scarce
The farmers’ sons went townwards
This caused a labour surplus there
Which forced all wages downwards.
The workers in a drastic plight
For higher wages pleaded
Sir Robert and his government
Relented and conceded
Then wages soared up very high
But prices spiraled higher
Wage earners were not better off
They stayed stuck in the mire.
Sir Robert by his very act
The big landholders pampered
By placing fortunes in their hands
While industry was hampered.
For when the market price of land
Exceeds its valuation
It locks out capital and works
Thus fostering stagnation.
With all the aids of implements
Discoveries in science
All labourers should be opulent
Content in self reliance
Instead we have the phenomena
Of booms that end in busting
When toilers cannot get a job
Machines lie idly rusting
So much for Robert Menzies’ role,
And Calwell’s is no better
Their views keep capital hamstrung
And labour in a fetter
We must shake off the parasites
Shake off taxation’s burden
Collect land rent for revenue
So toil can reap its guerdon.
– JS Rankin
The Bard of the Baw Baws
Sir Robert Gordon Menzies is held by some to have been Australia’s greatest Prime Minister.
John Simon Rankin, “The Bard of the Baw Baws” (2 Dec 1912 – 1 Jul 1994), clearly had a good grip on matters economic, and obviously did not agree. Nor did he hold Menzies’ Labor Party opponent, Arthur Calwell, in particularly high regard.
It was actually Sir Robert Menzies who abolished the Australian federal land tax in 1952. It had been legislated in 1910 and served Australians extremely well since 1911. Menzies provided the wealthy’s usual justifications for getting rid of it.
Related matter of interest:
It was left to another Liberal Party Prime Minister, John Grey Gorton, to finally dismantle Canberra’s system of land rent – although it does nominally remain a leasehold system . (Canberra, Australia’s capital, celebrates its centenary next year. See “Canberra: those other Americans” by David Headon.)