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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1075


Mr ROCHER(9.2) —I would like to dwell for a moment on clause 6 and proposed new sub-section 4 (3A), which authorises the Commissioner of Taxation to draw to the attention of the Parliament amounts due and payable by individuals, and to name such individual or individuals.

The failure of a person to pay this tax, and the late payment penalty that attaches, allows the Commissioner to name that individual in his annual report. That seems to me to smack of intimidation but, possible intimidation aside, the meaning of the provision is unclear. It becomes even more unclear if we look for enlightenment in statements that have been made by the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins).

When does a person fail to pay? If he does not pay by the due date, which is some 30 days after the notice of assessment has been issued, has he at that stage failed to pay in terms of this amendment? If that is the due date, will the fact that he has paid a few days late mean that he has failed to pay in the sense expressed in the Bill? May he expect to see his name in the Commissioner's annual report, for every newspaper in Australia to publish at will? If someone is slow to pay, successful recovery action by the Commissioner would indicate that that person has not failed to pay in any real sense. Surely the threat of inflicting on a tardy taxpayer the notoriety of public naming is not a tool which the Commissioner needs in order to secure observance of tax laws. The Commissioner already has available to him the anti-avoidance provisions of section 22 of the principal Act, which void any attempt to alienate property in order to avoid payment of the tax. The Commissioner also has available to him common law judgment and execution procedures. It seems to me that a person can be deemed to have failed to pay only if, after successful recovery action by the Commissioner has taken place, payment is still not made. I repeat, the Bill is far from clear on the point.

There is also, of course, the probability that the person who is assessed has failed to pay because he is unable to do so. In the circumstances, what is the point of publishing the name of someone who is unable to pay, unless it is to bring that person further into public disrepute. There is surely no point in naming such a person if there is to be no benefit thereby to the revenue. Perhaps we could get a clue from the second reading speech of the Minister for Finance in which he said that people of Australia 'should know those who remain unrepentant of their attempt to escape their rightful share of the tax burden.' That was the reason offered by the Minister. Surely the reasonable view is that in the main people fail to pay assessed taxes because they are unable to do so. Under other tax legislation, failure to pay does not lead to one's name being published by the Commissioner. Those who have been named hitherto have failed to disclose their full income or have claimed excessive deductions. They have earned, in every real sense of the word, the displeasure of the Commissioner, as well as an additional penalty tax. Vendor shareholders, under this Bill, would not have evaded tax. If they had there would have been no need for the principal Act.

In this context it should be noted that the provisions regarding the Commissioner's annual report apparently do not apply to dividend recoupment tax. Even at this stage it is not too late for the Government to withdraw proposed new sub-section 4 (3A), if only on the basis that there seems to be no point in besmirching the names and reputations of those who are unable to pay these new taxes. Bankruptcy proceedings in themselves, instituted by the Commissioner or even other creditors, would achieve that end if it were desirable. There is no need for persons to be named. If someone is unable to pay, naming him will not enhance the revenue or have a chastening effect on others who may be unable to pay.