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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1634


Mr HOWARD —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. I welcome him back. Is he aware that the admission made by the Minister for Finance last night means that, as well as the Minister having a liability under the recoupment legislation passed last year at the behest of the Fraser Government, he will have a liability under the so-called recoupment legislation proposed by the present Government and now before the Parliament? Does the Treasurer recall saying in this House on 7 September this year that, in opposing the present Governnment's legislation, the Opposition was protecting rorters, dodgers and rip-off merchants? Does he apply this description to his colleague the Minister for Finance? If so, which element of the description is relevant, or do all parts apply? If he does not believe that his colleague is a rorter, a dodger or a rip- off merchant, by what double standard does he excuse him? Or will he admit that, in using that description in the first place, he has been guilty of a monstrous smear?


Mr KEATING —I was not in the Parliament last night to hear what my colleague had to say; but, quite obviously, a clear procedure is laid down in the legislation introduced by the former Government and applied by the Commissioner of Taxation in which, of course, I have no discretion. If the purpose of the question is to disguise the extraordinary behaviour of the Opposition in opposing the legislation currently before the Senate, it is a very poor camouflage indeed. The phoney distinction which is made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition between legislation which he introduced in the period of the last Parliament and that proposed in this Parliament by the present Government in respect of the same tax dollars, to which he can find some point of objection, just illustrates that, out of government, the coalition parties are simply in the position of resiling from the principles which they embraced in the last Parliament. When it comes to the whole question of tax avoidance they are, as usual, soft on the tax avoidance industry and those who have been associated with tax avoidance. At no time have they displayed the sort of consistency or the principles which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition articulated in his party room when he was Treasurer of this country last year.

I have nothing further to add to what my colleague said last night. There is no discretion on my part in this matter. Indeed, the former Treasurer last year, when the report of the Costigan Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union was made public, spent a week hiding behind the so-called secrecy provisions which apply to the Commissioner of Taxation. Finally, when he was flushed out from hiding behind that provision, we found that there had been a telephone book full of--


Mr Howard —You waited until I went to the IMF meeting before you had the courage to attack me.


Mr KEATING —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition goes on with this ruse which apparently he went on with while I was at the meeting of the International Monetary Fund. He claims that, when he was at the IMF meeting last year, I in some way attacked him when in fact, in his absence, I should have been silent on the whole tax avoidance issue. It is worth just recalling what happened.

Last year when the Costigan report came down, the one thing which the former Treasurer and the Prime Minister of the day hid behind was the secrecy clause. They talked about the secrecy provision which applied to individuals and stated that, therefore, these individual cases could not be brought before the Treasurer of the day. In fact, as we pointed out-I pointed this out ad nauseam- including during the period when the then Treasurer was away, it was the purpose and the intent of the schemes and the remedies for the schemes which were important, and not the names of the companies participating in the schemes.

The former Treasurer hid behind that provision until he was flushed out by me and others when he returned from the IMF meeting. At that time his whole administration of the Income Tax Assessment Act was being called into question by the Costigan report, which exposed the fact that he had sat upon tax avoidance and had done nothing about it through all the years when he was Treasurer. After repeated letters from the Taxation Commissioner, to the effect that he had been sitting on it, his reliance simply upon this shabby line of argument that in some way there was a secrecy provision was a very poor line of argument indeed.

I had no compunction then, and I have none now, about attacking the honourable gentleman for his performance in the administration of the Income Tax Assessment Act and his responsibilities as Treasurer of this nation. In fact, I lay down the basic conditions. When the honourable gentleman knew that he was under attack he not only left the IMF meeting but also drifted off to half a dozen other places on the way back so that he could avoid answering the substantive issues which arose. I made no apology then and I make no apology now. In respect of the basic thrust of the question, it is just another shabby attack upon my colleague, using the privilege of the Parliament in relation to a matter in which obviously the former Treasurer knows I have no discretion and no responsibility.