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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3982

Mr KEATING (Treasurer)(3.38) —The terms of the motion moved by the Opposition are about the responsibilities of the Prime Minister in this matter. The motion talks about the failure of the Prime Minister to maintain proper standards of conduct and responsibility within his Government. Well, the first and most obvious issue is that there is no question of ministerial responsibility at issue. The question here does not relate to any conduct of my ministerial responsibility. It is a private responsibility, and hence, because there is no ministerial responsibility, there can be no such responsibility on the Prime Minister-which honourable members opposite well understand. The issue here is a private responsibility which I have to the Commissioner of Taxation and it is not an issue of ministerial responsibility. Hence the Prime Minister's proper prerogative as the Prime Minister with the leadership of the Government and the concern about the ministerial proprieties of colleague Ministers is not at issue, because this is not a ministerial propriety issue. This does not go to the conduct of my ministerial responsibilities. It is about a private responsibility I have under the Income Tax Assessment Act, like every other taxpayer, to the Tax Commissioner.

This, of course, is the fatal flaw in the argument of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). He referred to the man charged with the administering the tax Act. I am not the man charged with administering the tax Act; it is the Commissioner of Taxation. One would have thought that after five years as Treasurer he would have understood that basic point that the person administering the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, as amended, is the Commissioner of Taxation by a statute of this Parliament. So that is where this motion fails.

This is just a piece of cheap politics which has been brought on to attempt to embarrass the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's responsibilities in this matter are abundantly clear, and even though it is a private responsibility of mine, I made it quite clear--

Opposition members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member for Cowper will heed the Chair. All honourable members on my left will hear the Treasurer in silence, as the other speakers have been heard.

Mr KEATING —I made it clear to the Prime Minister that this issue had arisen that I had not filed a return, and that I had done so. He said `Good, that is as it should be'. That is the limit of his responsibility in this matter. But I make it quite clear that last night in the Parliament I told the House in unequivocal and unambiguous terms that I had not filed the returns for 1985 and 1986, and that I had filed the 1985 return earlier this week and would be filing the 1986 return. The moment it became an issue in the Parliament I raised it here in a quite unambiguous way. I said then, and I repeat, that I regret having not filed the return. There is no excuse for me. The return should have been filed. I do not walk away from that whatsoever. But the fact is that I did make a mistake but, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, my mistake did not cost half a million people their jobs. My mistake did not retard the economy for 20 years. My mistake did not induce a massive domestic recession, unlike his mistake which almost destroyed the fabric of the Australian economy. And he sits up here as a failed Treasurer asking, as he did absurdly this morning, for my resignation over something that is of course entirely a private matter between me and the Tax Commissioner.

One issue has been overlooked in all this. I was asked in Question Time by the Opposition about the possibility of a civil offence under the Income Tax Assessment Act, but there has been no mention of the criminal offence of stealing letters in the mail, and no explanation by the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Treasurer of how they became the beneficiaries of this theft. They should state quite unequivocally where they got the copy of this letter, how they came by it, so that we can establish how this criminal offence against the Post and Telegraph Act took place. It is all very well to talk about a possible offence under the Income Tax Assessment Act, but the Opposition is not talking about a criminal offence-

Mr Tuckey —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The Treasurer might tell us why the letter ever had to be written.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The member for O'Connor was not called. If he interjects once more or takes the microphone without being called by the Chair, I will name him.

Mr KEATING —Let us hear from Opposition members about their role in the receipt of this letter and what they think about criminal offences under the Post and Telegraph Act, because intercepting a piece of correspondence between the Tax Commissioner and a taxpayer is a very serious matter. It is not a copy from the Tax Office because the Tax Office duplicates do not carry the masterhead. This is a copy of the letter supposedly directed to me. Of course, had I received the letter, had it not been stolen, both returns would have been filed earlier.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr KEATING —Opposition members are all guffawing, but let us hear from them how they came by this stolen document. Let us hear about the Opposition's role, if any, in this criminal offence against the Post and Telegraph Act. Let the lawyer with the silk handkerchief in his pocket over there tell us about criminal offences under that Act, let old unctuous over there, the shadow Treasurer, tell us how he came by this letter, and let the Leader of the Opposition tell us how he came by this letter.

Mr Tuckey —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker-and the Treasurer might sit down please, under the Standing Orders, standing order 99.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I wish the honourable member for O'Connor would be as aware of some of the other Standing Orders, like the ones that require him to heed the Chair when the Chair speaks to him. What is the point of order?

Mr Tuckey —The reference to `old unctuous over there' was clearly insulting and should be withdrawn.

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member for Mackellar did not take offence at the wording.

Mr KEATING —I make this point about the stolen letter, but I also make it clear that I would be very interested to know from the honourable member for Mackellar whether his 1986 tax return has been filed.

Mr Carlton —It will be in in time.

Mr KEATING —It is not in yet? You mean that you have not filed your 1986 return? You mean you have got up and put this on me and you have not filed your 1986 return?

Mr Carlton —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Treasurer cannot accuse me of an offence under the tax Act when it is certainly not committed.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! That is not a point of order.

Mr Carlton —Madam Speaker, that is scandalous behaviour.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I cannot hear a word. The honourable member does not have a point of order on that. The Treasurer, to my understanding, asked you whether you had filed your 1986 return, and you replied that you had not.

Mr Carlton —He is suggesting that I am not complying with the law in not having done so, when I have an extension through my tax agent, as many honest taxpayers do. I have always put in my returns on time. I will not have this from this man.

Mr KEATING —Perhaps the Opposition front bench will tell us where their 1986 returns are, if they are so good at advising everyone on how to be unctuous. What about putting down the dates of when their 1986 returns have been put in.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable members for Bendigo and Maribyrnong will stop shouting across the chamber. It is very difficult to hear.

Mr KEATING —We heard from the Leader of the Opposition about me, about my travelling allowance, about the suntanned windows and about the white car. These are the snide remarks thrown around by the Leader of the Opposition. But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror every morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It is like `Spot the eyebrow'. You talk about arrogance and smugness, travelling allowances, ministerial cars; you have been into breaches of promise, and you have been into everything-and you stand up here talking about propriety.

Mr Sinclair —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. I suggest that the remarks just made by the Treasurer were quite contrary to our Standing Orders. They were about the personality of the former Treasurer. This motion is not about the personality of the former Treasurer and present Leader of the Opposition, and I ask that those marks be withdrawn.

Mr KEATING —I withdraw.

Madam SPEAKER —I point out to the Leader of the National Party that if that one point was out of order, most of the behaviour in the last five minutes on both sides of the House has also been outside the Standing Orders. I suggest that all members of the House should control themselves and that we hear the rest of this debate in silence.

Mr KEATING —This is the last day of the session. This Government has done everything possible to produce a better tax system, a fairer tax system and a more decent tax system by the eradication of fringe benefits, of entertainment expenses and of capital gains. All have been opposed by the Opposition. The Australia Card has been opposed by the Opposition. The only thing the Opposition ever did as a government was to wipe out the criminal evasion schemes after five years of their flourishing. Even yesterday's report of the Commissioner of Taxation showed that $52m was lost in revenue under the schemes which operated throughout the Leader of the Opposition's period as Treasurer. Yet he is now trying to demean my work and the Government's work in making the tax system decent, all on the basis that I did not get a tax return in on time.

That will not deflect me from supporting a decent tax system, from making the tax system better, and from arguing to Australians that they are entitled to an honest tax system, that they are not entitled to be ripped off by the con merchants and the criminal evasion and avoidance schemes, fringe benefits, non-cash benefits, capital gains and the rest. The Leader of the Opposition stands here with no credibility on taxation. He should not think that whether I have furnished a return on time or not matters in this respect, because what matters is the principles of taxation law which the public well and truly understands.

Here we are at the end of a long session, having seen Australia go through a trading crisis in April, emerging from one of the most difficult periods in economic history, yet the Opposition has not laid a glove on the Government once. The Government has knocked the Opposition off like blowflies over the course of the parliamentary year. Opposition members have been so easy to deflect. With all of those issues the Opposition has not made one solid point. The Government is now laying down a big Budget, putting the tax changes into effect and seeing the economy turn. Yet there was not one question from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday on the issue of the national accounts. The House rises today but now the Opposition thinks that it has found an issue-in the last hour of the last session for this year. We have been through a massive economic change and an economic crisis earlier in the year. Yet what are Opposition members on about? My tax return! Also we find that the person who is charging me has not put his own tax return in for 1986. That is where we stand.

We have also had all those distortions about the travelling allowance. These miserable, deceitful distortions have been repeated day in and day out about my travelling allowance. Yet the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), who sits beside the Leader of the Opposition on the front bench, draws the same allowance even though he lives in this city and has his children at school here. The right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) has also done this and so has everyone else; yet we have had this unprincipled, indecent attack from the Leader of the Opposition on this matter because he has never been able to get on to the big issues-the economy, the Australia Card, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax or even putting through the Bills that tidy up the criminal evasion schemes. These Bills were defeated three times in the Senate in 1983 and 1984. There is $52m outstanding and the Commissioner of Taxation cannot collect it because he does not have the legislative power. Whom do we thank for that? The Leader of the Opposition! He has thrown all this personal abuse at me and it has gone on now for a couple of years. First of all I was supposed to be tied up with the Nugan Hand bank; then we had the breach of promise stuff from the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey); then we had the VIP flights, then the travelling allowances and now my taxation return.

Where does the Leader of the Opposition stand on fiscal policy? Where does he stand on wages policy? If one asks anyone in Parliament where John Howard stands in Australian politics, nobody now knows the answer-not on fiscal policy, not on wages policy, not on taxation. We will hear all his policies two hours before the next election. That is how the Leader of the Opposition leads the Liberal Party of Australia. In the last few minutes of the last hour of the last day of the last year of economic turmoil he displays irrelevance. Let me conclude by saying that I regret having not filed my income tax return. My future tax returns will not be overdue. All taxpayers should file their returns on time and there can be no excuses-that must be said. But that does not cover the deceitful approach of the Opposition for standing against every decent piece of taxation law that this Government has tried to introduce and every decent piece of economic policy that it has pursued. No amount of personal attacks on me will ever confuse the Parliament about that fact.

Motion (by Mr Young) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Howard's) be agreed to.