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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20112


Mr Murphy asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 3 March 2003:

(1) Is he aware of the common law rule and administrative law maxim that justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done.

(2) Is he also aware that, in the Commissioner of Taxation's annual report on the activities of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) for the year 2000-2001, there is a chapter titled Legal Profession Project (LPP) dealing with persistent tax debtors.

(3) Does the chapter provide important information in the public interest relating to (a) the investigation of 62 barristers with current practising certificates who had been bankrupt or entered into Bankruptcy Act Part X arrangements in the past decade, (b) strategies for dealing with serial bankrupt barristers, (c) proposed action in relation to the prosecution of 104 barristers who had failed to respond to a demand for lodgment of a tax return by the due date and (d) the Commissioner of Taxation meeting with the NSW Bar Association to share information and discuss opportunities to work together.

(4) With regard to the sharing of information between the NSW Bar Association and, in light of section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (ITAA), (a) what authority does the Commissioner of Taxation have to share such information with the NSW Bar Association, (b) has the Commissioner of Taxation actually shared such information with the NSW Bar Association; if so, what is the nature, or what are the details, of this information and by what legal authority and statutory or other power has the Commissioner shared this information, (c) is the statement on page 63 of the annual report that the Commissioner has met with the NSW Bar Association to share information and discuss opportunities to work together false; if not, why not and (d) if the Commissioner of Taxation has not met with the NSW Bar Association in furtherance of the annual report 2000-01, when will the Commissioner so meet.

(5) What power is the Commissioner of Taxation actually using when sharing information referred to in parts (3) and (4), and is this power (a) a power under section 16 of the ITAA; if so, what provision of that section; if not, why not, (b) a power under the exclusionary or exceptions provisions of the Information Privacy Principles under section 14 of the Privacy Act 1988; if so, what power; if not, why not, (c) some other statutory power under the ITAA, Privacy Act, other taxation, secrecy, privacy or other statute law; if so, what is that power; if not, why not, (d) a common law power; if so, what is that power, (e) an administrative power; if so, what is that power, (f) a prerogative power; if so, what is that power or (g) some other power; if so, what is that power.

(6) What priority is the Commissioner of Taxation giving to the prosecution of serial bankrupt barristers, in particular the prosecution of the 104 cases mentioned in the annual report.

(7) What remedy is there to eliminate the high number of barristers who fail to lodge a tax return and fail to pay their assessed and fair share of tax.


Mr Costello (Treasurer) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) to (3) Refer to the Commissioner of Taxation annual report 2000-01.

(4) (a) (b) The information shared between the Commissioner and the Bar Association of New South Wales involved statistics gathered by the ATO in relation to the percentage of the profession who had failed to file a tax return and the number of barristers declared bankrupt within NSW. The Commissioner did not provide any personal information about any barristers and, as such, did not infringe section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (ITAA).

The Commissioner's appointment carries with it a responsibility to liaise with industry bodies, and the community more broadly, about compliance with the tax laws. It is appropriate for the Commissioner to provide to a professional association statistical information relating to, or affecting, compliance levels within the relevant profession provided the disclosure is otherwise consistent with the secrecy provisions of the tax law and the privacy principles.

(c) and (d) The Commissioner met with the President of the Bar Association of New South Wales on Tuesday 13 March 2001. The Commissioner's staff responsible for the Legal Profession Project continue to meet and liaise with officers of the Bar Association.

(5) The Commissioner's ability to disclose aggregate statistical information to a Bar Association is explained in the answer to question (4) above.

Disclosure of aggregate statistical information does not infringe any prohibition in section 16. Nor does the Privacy Act 1988 apply to the disclosure of aggregate statistical information.

(6) The Commissioner of Taxation has informed me that the ATO is continuing to give high priority to barristers who are not complying with their tax obligations. This includes focussing on the lodgment of outstanding returns, payment of debt and prosecution action for failing to lodge tax returns.

(7) The majority of barristers are now up to date with their lodgments and the Commissioner will continue his efforts through the focus of the ATO's Legal Profession Project. The Bankruptcy Taskforce has made a number of recommendations to change tax law, bankruptcy law and family law. The package of recommendations is now being considered by the Government.

Also refer to the joint press release by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer of 2 May 2003, `Progress of Government action to strengthen laws to prevent tax abuse'.