PARLIAMENT was given a lesson in Roman and Mediaeval taxation last week by South West MLC Steve Thomas.
On May 7, during Legislative Council debate on the Revenue Laws Amendment Bill 2018, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said he appreciated the history lesson Dr Thomas had just provided.
Mr Dawson recalled Dr Thomas discussing the Roman Empire, the Knights Templar and mediaeval England.
“I closed my eyes for a second and pictured a Game of Thrones episode or perhaps a Dan Brown novel as he made his contribution,” the Environment Minister said.
Earlier, Dr Thomas had told the Upper House that the Liberal Party, of which he is a member, would support the Bill.
“Within the Roman Empire, it was recognised that people might need to apply a legal entity separate from a human entity to hold assets and perhaps to operate a business,” he continued.
“In those early days—as occurred through the next millennia and a half or so—this application was generally restricted to religious organisations and the extension of power for those in charge, particularly that of the Roman emperors.”
Dr Thomas said it was recognised early that there had to be a separate entity.
“Interestingly, that eventually morphed into a corporate entity, and, again, a corporate entity is of course a legal entity, separate from the individual,” he expanded.
“An individual may not only hold assets and earn an income, but also control a separate legal entity that sits over the other side and holds assets and has an income.
“It eventually morphed into a corporate structure, and I think the word ‘share’ came from the French around 1600, but there is also a conflicting theory that it came from those investing in ships going to the New World.”
Dr Thomas explained that through Europe at that time there was an expansion of legal entities representing ownership of land, businesses and profit, including the East India Company.
“For members who have a penchant for both economics and history, prior to that the Knights Templar were given licence by the Pope to develop enormous business structures around Europe in the period between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries,” he began to digress.
“They effectively ran their own banks; people could walk in at one end of Europe and get a promissory note, and exchange coins for it at the other end.
“There was a problem, of course, in the end, when the Pope withdrew his support and ultimately had them slaughtered, but that is a slightly different story.”
Dr Thomas explained the word ‘corporate’ came from the Latin, ‘corpus’, meaning body, and so the term ‘body corporate’ meant the body of the body of the people, and Legislative Council President Kate Doust intervened.
“Member, fascinating as this is, I am sure you are warming up to talk to us about the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill 2018 and the Revenue Laws Amendment Bill 2018,” she asserted.
Dr Thomas assured her that he was.
“History suggests that limited liability was introduced because those who had wealth at that time in England and Europe were rich landowners who tended to be knights who were obliged to participate in the Crusades,” said the member whose vast electoral realm encompasses Denmark, Albany, Walpole and the rest of the Southwest.
“If they held a large estate and went off on a crusade, they would have wanted to get their estate back if they were lucky enough to survive the crusade.”
Dr Thomas said that while a knight was off crusading, somebody had to look after the estate.
“When the crusading knight returned, that person often did not want to hand the estate back, so they had to set up a corporate structure with limited liability to ensure that ownership returned to the crusading knight,” he added.
“These processes provided an alternative legal entity for property, so it has a very long and reasonably robust history.
“I do not think anyone would argue that although systems like that remain in place, there is also a long history of people trying to manipulate such systems for personal gain.”
The debate continued at length.