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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2806


Senator JACK EVANS —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. In light of the present Government's public vows to combat tax avoidance and the personal crusade against the tax avoidance industry by the Minister representing the Treasurer in this House, Senator Walsh, can this Senate now assume that the failure of the Government to pass the latest tax avoidance Bill, which was passed by the Senate on 4 May, means that the Government has abandoned its own senators and gone soft on tax avoidance? As the Australian Democrats Bill, to which I refer, would put an immediate stop to tax avoidance through section 23F schemes-the so-called cherrypicker schemes-and as it had the unanimous support of this Senate, is the Government's failure a reflection on the Senate's role of responsible and responsive legislating or are recent Government actions to be seen as posturing before the community while simultaneously sheltering tax avoiders?


Senator WALSH —I acknowledge that Senator Jack Evans's own record on anti-tax avoidance legislation is impeccable, as is Senator Mason's record. The record of the honourable senator's Democrat colleagues has been consistent. I do not agree with their conclusions but at least it has been consistent. The record of some members of the Liberal Party of Australia and some members of the National Party of Australia has also been consistent. They have also lined up to protect the tax avoiders and the tax evaders. The record of most members of the Liberal Party and the National Party has been inconsistent in that they vote for legislation to crack down on tax evasion when they are in government and they vote against it when they are in opposition. The record of Senator Harradine on this question is equally inconsistent in that he votes against tax evasion when his vote does not matter and he votes in favour of the tax avoiders when it does matter.

Senator Evans's conclusion, however, is not correct. The Government is still reviewing the position. The Government, unlike half the members of this Senate, is not willing, at this stage anyway, to allow the notorious Kelly brothers-I believe that one is now deceased-in the case clearly documented and circulated to all honourable senators in regard to a cherry-picker scheme, to walk away with $1m which ought to have been paid in taxation but which will not be paid in taxation because of the actions of half the members of this Senate.


Senator Coates —Shame.


Senator WALSH —Shame indeed. I would like to make one comment in closing in respect of the Senate committee report on the cherrypickers scheme which is relevant to the Bill to which Senator Evans referred which was passed in the Senate. If one accepts Senator Withers's view, a view which has been supported, if I recall correctly, by a number of other honourable senators on the non-Labor side, that legislation is unnecessary. The basic argument put forward by Senator Withers is that the existing legislation provides the Commissioner of Taxation with adequate power to deal with cherry picker schemes and a number of other schemes. That is not consistent with the advice which has been given to the Government and it is not the Government's belief.

In summary, the Government will keep the situation under review. However, it is reluctant, unlike half the members of the Senate, to allow people like the Kelly brothers-I cite the Kelly case because it has been documented in the courts in civil proceedings-who picked a million dollars worth of cherries out of the pockets of other taxpayers to walk away unchallenged.


Senator JACK EVANS —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Whilst I admire the tenacity of the Government in chasing the Kelly brothers, I ask the Minister: Does the Government need all this extra time to consider a Bill which is absolutely identical to the Bill that the Government put through the House of Representatives with only one exception, that is, retrospectivity? Why does the Government require additional time to consider the legislation to chase all the other tax avoiders who are using the cherry picker scheme right at this moment to avoid their tax obligations?


Senator WALSH —It is Senator Evans's judgment that the cherry picker scheme could still be exploited. I think it is possible that that is happening.


Senator Walters —Why do you not stop it?


Senator WALSH —Why does Senator Walters not vote to take the million dollars worth of cherries that the Kellys picked out of the pockets of honest taxpayers off the Kellys and give it back to those honest taxpayers? That is a far more relevant question to ask. There is a great deal of business before the Government. I will seek further information or advice from the Treasurer on this matter. The Government has a heavy Cabinet program and, as far as I know, there just has not been time to consider it.