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§ 256. “One Subject of Taxation Only.”

By the first paragraph of the section, laws imposing taxation must deal only with the imposition of taxation. If the section contained no other limitation regulating and restricting the exercising of the taxing power there would be nothing to prevent the House of Representatives from sending to the Senate a bill containing a number of separate and independent taxes. The section, however, goes on to enact that laws imposing taxation shall, with the exception of those relating to customs and excise, deal with one subject of taxation only. It is necessary to explain the object of this limitation. By the second paragraph of sec. 53, the Senate is deprived of the power to amend tax bills, but it may constitutionally reject them. In order to maintain its right to veto, in detail, each specific tax to which it objects, without thereby involving the rejection of other taxes of which it approves, the Constitution prohibits the combination of taxation proposals; it requires each proposed tax to be submitted by the House of Representatives to the Senate, in a separate bill. This procedure being followed, the Senate can exercise its discretion with respect to each tax, without being coerced to pass a tax to which it objects, in order to carry a tax which it desires. In this respect the Senate will have greater control over taxation than the House of Lords enjoys.

The Papers Duties Precedent may be here referred to in illustration of the manner in which sec. 55 will operate in strengthening the Senate. In 1860, the Commons


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determined to balance the year's ways and means by an increase of the property tax and stamp duties, and the repeal of the duties on paper. The increased taxation had already received the assent of Parliament, when the Lords rejected the Paper Duties Repeal Bill, and thus overruled the financial arrangements voted by the Commons. That House was naturally sensitive to this encroachment upon its privileges; but the Lords had exercised a legal right, and their vote was irrevocable during that session. The Commons, therefore, to maintain their privileges, recorded upon their journal, 6th July, resolutions affirming that the right of granting aids and supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone; that the power of the Lords to reject bills relating to taxation “is justly regarded by this House with peculiar jealousy, as affecting the right of the Commons to grant the Supplies, and to provide the ways and means for the service of the year; and that to guard, for the future, against an undue exercise of that power by the Lords, and to secure to the Commons their rightful control over taxation and supply, this House has in its own hands the power so to impose and remit taxes, and to frame bills of supply, that the right of the Commons as to the matter, manner, measure, and time may be maintained inviolate.” In accordance with these resolutions, during the next session, the financial scheme of the year was presented to the Lords for acceptance or rejection as a whole. The Commons again resolved that the paper duties should be repealed; but, instead of seeking the concurrence of the Lords to a separate bill for that purpose, they included in one bill the repeal of those duties with the property tax, the tea and sugar duties, and other ways and means for the service of the year; and this bill the Lords were constrained to accept. The budget of each year has since that occasion been comprised in a general and composite Act—a proceeding supported by precedent. In 1787, Mr. Pitt's entire budget was comprised in a single bill; and during many subsequent years great varieties of taxes were imposed and continued in the same Acts. (May's Parl. Prac. 10th ed. pp. 550–1.)

From this precedent it appears that the Commons have the right to send to the Lords a single scheme of taxation embodying the repeal of old taxes and the imposition of new taxes; the functions of the Lords being, in such a case, limited to a simple assent to the whole scheme or a simple negative of the whole scheme. Such a composite or general tax bill could not be submitted by the House of Representatives to the Senate; it would be unconstitutional, the maxim being “one tax one bill,” except in the case of bills dealing with customs and excise.

We have now to consider what will be the consequence if Parliament should, whether by accident or design, pass a law imposing taxation, yet dealing with more than one subject of taxation—a law, say, imposing an income tax and a stamp duty. A proposal that the tax standing first in order in the enactment should be valid, whilst the other, or others, next in order should be null and void, was rejected by the Convention. No provision is made in the Constitution, therefore, for segregating the taxes and providing for the validity of one and the nullity of the others. Where the Constitution intends that one portion of an Act only shall be of no effect and the rest operative it is so expressed. The only conclusion is that an Act embodying a plurality of taxes would be absolutely and completely ultra vires.

Recommendation of money votes.

56. A vote, resolution, or proposed law257 for the appropriation of revenue or moneys shall not be passed unless the purpose of the appropriation has in the same session been recommended by message of the Governor-General to the House in which the proposal originated258.

HISTORICAL NOTE.—The provision in the Commonwealth Bill of 1891 was:




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“It shall not be lawful for the House of Representatives to pass any vote, resolution, or law for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue, or of the produce of any tax or impost, to any purpose that has not been first recommended to that House by message of the Governor-General in the session in which the vote, resolution, or law is proposed.”

This provision was taken from the Constitution Acts of the several colonies; see, for instance, Constitution of New South Wales, sec. 54.

The draft Constitution as settled at the Adelaide session restricted the exclusive originating power of the House of Representatives to Bills whose “main object” was to appropriate money or impose taxation. It was then seen that bills for the appropriation of revenue or moneys, but whose “main object” was not such appropriation, might be introduced into the Senate, and would require a message; and consequently the clause as drafted at Adelaide provided that it should not be lawful for “the Senate or the House of Representatives” to pass a vote, &c., for appropriation without a message. It was pointed out that this would involve a message to both Houses in the case of every appropriation Bill; and the clause was therefore altered to read as follows:—

“It shall not be lawful for the Senate or the House of Representatives to pass any vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue or moneys to any purpose which has not been first recommended to the House in which the proposal for appropriation originated by message of the Governor-General in the session in which the vote, resolution, or law is proposed.” (Conv. Deb., Adel., pp. 616, 1200)

That was the second stage in the evolution of the message section. At the Sydney session the clause relating to the origination of Money Bills was altered by the omission of the “main object” limitation, and the substitution of the provision that a Bill should not be deemed an Appropriation or Tax Bill merely because it provided for fines or fees. This took away from the Senate the power to initiate that large class of Appropriation Bills contemplated by the Adelaide clause; but the Chairman, Sir Richard Baker, thought that the decision to allow the Senate to initiate Bills imposing and appropriating fines and fees would still necessitate messages to the Senate; and, therefore, suggestions made by several of the Houses of Legislature, to require a message to the House of Representatives only, were not put from the chair. (Conv. Deb., Syd., 1897, pp. 540–1.)

At the Melbourne session, the words “for the Senate or the House of Representatives” were omitted by the Drafting Committee before the first report, and the clause then read as follows:—

“It shall not be lawful to pass any vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue or moneys to any purpose which has not been first recommended to the House in which the proposal for appropriation originated by message of the Governor-General in the session in which the vote, resolution, or law is proposed.”

This was the shape in which the clause was debated in Melbourne, after the second report. The first point discussed was the meaning of the words “it shall not be lawful.” They apparently amounted to a prohibition, any breach of which would render the law, even if passed, invalid, thereby enabling the courts to enquire into the question whether an Appropriation Bill had been recommended by message or not. (See Todd, Parl. Gov. in Col. 2nd ed. p. 637.) Mr. Reid pointed out the undesirableness of this; and to prevent any difficulty arising from the circumstance of a preliminary vote being taken on an Appropriation Bill before the necessary message was brought down to the House, he also suggested the omission of the word “first,” so that the clause should read “which has not been recommended to the House.” With this alteration it would only be necessary that the message should reach the House before the Bill was passed by the House. The Drafting Committee subsequently gave effect to these suggestions by omitting the words “it shall not be lawful,” and the word “first,” and re-casting the clause into its present form. Mr. Isaacs moved to substitute “House of Representatives” for “House in which the proposal originated,” on the ground that the Senate, under


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sec. 53, had no power to originate a “proposed law for the appropriation of revenue or moneys” within the meaning of the Constitution. This was negatived by 26 votes to 17. (Conv. Deb., Melb., pp. 2096–2104, 2451)

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