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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2758


Mr HURFORD (Minister for Housing and Construction and Minister Assisting the Treasurer)(11.00) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide legislative authority for a system that may be used uniformly throughout Australia for the service by post of summonses in respect of taxation offences that, on summary conviction, are punishable by a fine. The Australian Taxation Office issues more than 100,000 summonses annually throughout Australia for non-indictable offences against the various taxation laws. Most of these relate to failure to lodge income tax returns or to provide requested information.

In some States-notably Victoria, South Australia and Queensland-taxation summonses are already served by post under relevant State laws. However, in Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales they are served personally by police officers, taxation officers or private process servers. Of the large number of taxation summonses issued in Australia each year a significant proportion is issued in New South Wales. Until now, service in that State has, by arrangement, been undertaken by the State police. The New South Wales Government and the Police Association in that State have, for some time, been expressing the opinion that the use of police resources on this work is a waste of valuable manpower which, if released from this function, could be better deployed on law enforcement activities. With this general proposition the Government is in agreement, but we have been concerned to ensure that any system implemented to replace personal service should incorporate adequate safeguards.

The proposed system contains essential safeguards to protect people from the consequences of non-receipt or late receipt of a summons or notice of conviction sent by post. A person convicted in his or her absence of an offence in respect of which a summons has been postally served and without entering a plea to the charge will be advised, by a notice which may be served by post, of details of the conviction, of any fine imposed and of the time allowed by the court for payment of the fine. This notice will also advise the convicted person of rights available under the system to apply for the conviction to be set aside and the charge re-heard. Where the court hearing an application for setting aside a conviction is satisfied that the postally served summons was not received either at all or was not received in sufficient time to enable attendance at the hearing of the charge, or where the court considers it desirable in the interests of justice to do so, the conviction is to be set aside and the matter re-heard.

The system will also provide that, if any fine is not paid within the longer of the time allowed by the court or 21 days, a warning notice must be personally served on a convicted person and a further period of 21 days allowed to elapse before he or she can be imprisoned for non-payment. Following personal service of this warning notice, there will be a further opportunity to seek a setting aside of the conviction and to obtain a re-hearing of the charge. The court would, however, need to be satisfied that the summons and notice of conviction were not received or were not received in sufficient time to enable the person to appear at the original hearing or to have earlier exercised the right to have the conviction set aside and the matter re-heard.

In the event of non-receipt or late receipt of a summons there will therefore be at least two opportunities to have a conviction set aside and to obtain a re- hearing before a warrant of commitment to prison may be issued. The system will in general provide safeguards greater than those contained in the laws of States and Territories which now provide for the service of summonses by post. In no case will the proposed Commonwealth system provide less safeguards. The system will be implemented initially in States in which personal service of summonses is at present carried out, namely, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania. I also mention that in States and Territories where persons may, under State or Territory law, enter a plea by post to a charge of having committed an offence, that procedure will also apply in relation to summonses for taxation offences served by post under the new Commonwealth system.

The introduction of the system provided for by this Bill will not result in any cost to the revenue. There will, however, be savings for State police forces in the States in which police officers now personally serve taxation summonses. Some savings in Commonwealth expenditure and resources will also result in States in which summonses are now served by taxation officers or process servers . A memorandum explaining the technical features of the Bill is, as is usual with taxation Bills, being made available to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Braithwaite) adjourned.