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Tuesday, 17 June 2003
Page: 16736


Mr Murphy asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 11 February 2003:

(1) Under subsection 16(2) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, is the Commissioner of Taxation or any other officer within the meaning of that Act statutorily precluded, directly or indirectly, from making a record of, or divulging or communicating to any person any information respecting the affairs of another person acquired by the officer.

(2) Does the subsection preclude the Commissioner of Taxation or any other officer so prescribed from making a record or divulging any information respecting the affairs of another person so acquired within the meaning of that Act, to (a) the Bar Association of New South Wales, (b) the New South Wales Law Society, (c) the Australian Medical Association, (d) the Royal College of Surgeons and (e) other equivalent professional bodies charged with chartered disciplinary responsibilities who maintain professional standards in their respective professions.

(3) What is the lawful procedure by which peak professional bodies may obtain taxation records for the purposes of disciplinary proceedings within their own mandated responsibilities.

(4) How is the public interest preserved in light of the provisions of section 16 and the Commissioner of Taxation's responsibilities under the Privacy Act, in particular duties under the Information Privacy Principles.

(5) How is the Government's public accountability and public interest served by privacy laws and other statutory powers such as those prescribed in section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act, which have the effect of denying public accountability of a person acting in a public ministry such as law, medicine, accounting, politics or other ministry.


Mr Costello (Treasurer) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Refer to subsection 16(2) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (ITAA 1936).

(2) Disclosure to the entities identified is not specifically authorised by subsection 16(4) of the ITAA 1936 or any of the provisions in the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (TAA) that override the general prohibition on disclosure contained in subsection 16(2) of the ITAA.

(3) All requests for access to taxpayer information are determined in accordance with the relevant legislative provisions. In other words, disclosure of the information must be consistent with the taxation secrecy provisions and the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act).

(4) The question relates to both the taxation secrecy provisions and the Information Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act falls within the responsibility of the Attorney-General.

The taxation secrecy provisions and the Information Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act reflect the intent of Parliament to balance two competing areas of public interest: on the one hand the interests of taxpayers in having the privacy of their taxation information respected; and on the other hand the ability of organisations to access taxpayer information for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the taxpayer's other legal obligations.

The voluntary disclosure by taxpayers of information concerning their taxation affairs is vital to the efficient operation of Australia's taxation laws. If taxpayers lack this confidence, they may be reluctant to voluntarily disclose information to the Australian Taxation Office.

In order to maintain the confidence of taxpayers, and hence the integrity of the taxation system, it is essential that taxpayer information not be disclosed except in the special circumstances which Parliament has determined and reflected in the exceptions to the taxation secrecy provisions and the Information Privacy Principles.

(5) See my response to (4).