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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 492


Mr SPENDER(3.57) —Before the adjournment of the debate I was speaking of the patent unfairness of this legislation. I now draw together two elements which illustrate not only that the Government has sought to mislead this House and the Australian people but also that it is really acknowledging that it is taking away from the existing legislation the provisions which would exculpate those who did not engage in stripping and evasion exercises or benefitted from those exercises. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) in his second reading speech stated:

The major purpose of that Bill--

Referring to the Bill earlier before the House--

was to give effect to this Government's election undertaking to recover personal tax avoided by former owners of companies that were the subject of bottom of the harbour schemes.

That Bill, with certain changes, is now being resubmitted to this Parliament. Let me juxtapose that with what is said later in the second reading speech where it is stated:

The Bill proposes to remove one of the pre-conditions to liability for recoupment tax-the requirement that the company was by a stripping scheme rendered unable to pay its tax-which was inserted by the previous Government, it seems for presentational purposes.

It was inserted, as was made clear at the time and as would be known by the Treasurer (Mr Keating)-if we are to be afforded the benefit of his presence in the chamber at any time-so as to avoid harming those who were not engaging in stripping exercises and in cases where companies had not evaded tax. However, it is proposed by this Government to remove those provisions and so to subject the innocent together with those who had knowledge, to tax, so long as otherwise they would be caught and many companies plainly will be caught. What possible justification can be advanced for measures which remove the elements of stripping and evasion as the pre-condition for liability on the part of the vendors, which make no attempt to distinguish in favour of the innocent and which go back to transactions which took place as long ago as 1972?

This is an important measure. It is a measure which the Government hopes will bring in $270m overall and $60m in this financial year. Yet the Treasurer has made no attempt to answer the criticisms of this Bill made by the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard). We would be glad to see the Treasurer here to answer what has been said against this Bill and his own handling of it. Has he had enough? Are we to have the pleasure of his company here? Those who were present here when he sought to debate-one can only say that he was seeking to debate-the measure before the House will recall a truculent rambling presentation, which reminded one of a schoolboy who had not done his homework being cross-questioned by his master; in this case the master being the honourable member for Bennelong.

If we are going to see the Treasurer-and we certainly hope that we shall see him-we would be glad to know from him what are the answers to the questions raised by the honourable member for Bennelong. Where are the new proposals that the Government says it is necessary to put in place to smash tax avoidance? Where are they after six months and after one mini-Budget and one Budget? What is the real reason for the removal of the preconditions for liability established in favour of those persons who could only be described as innocent in every respect? How is it possible to justify the removal of those provisions from the legislation so that the innocent will be caught? What are the reasons for that? Why is it that the Government persists in misdescribing its proposals as bottom of the harbour legislation, as legislation which is sought to catch evasion, as legislation which is sought to catch stripping, when its own proposals remove the preconditions of precisely those elements, so that regardless of a person's conduct those who were engaged in selling shares in companies and who are utterly blameless of any ill-doing will be caught?