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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1421


Senator WATSON(8.53) —The Senate is debating cognately three Bills relating to taxation, each of which deals with a wide range of issues. I intend to spend only a brief time on some of these aspects. The Government has an unfortunate habit of not only not honouring the majority of its election promises but also creating a lot of unnecessary precedents that attack the rights of individuals-many of them innocent. Provisions in these tax Bills are further examples of such attacks. It is significant that all the Liberal speakers in this debate have attacked this reverse onus of proof, and I commend the contribution made by my colleague, Senator Missen. The matter of reverse onus is a serious matter for ordinary Australians. The Law Council of Australia certainly did its job in outlining its concern. It referred to:

. . . a staggering and unprecedented reversal of the onus of proof, imposing an improper and unnecessary burden, and a change in the fundamental rights of every Australian.

Under the legislation before us tonight prosecutions can now be brought without limitation of time. This could impose an impossible burden on a director of a company or a person involved in the management of the company who had little to do with taxation affairs, but who-two, 12 or even 20 years later-may not have all the evidence available at his hand to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had not been knowingly involved in such an offence. That is an intolerable position in which to put people who have retired from active management-people not concerned with taxation matters-just because they were directors of a company. The Liberal Party in outlining these problems has done a great service to the people of Australia. They now know the difference between a Liberal Government and a Labor Government whose policies attack the freedoms of Australians.

The Opposition is also concerned about the automatic nature of penalties of up to 200 per cent for late payment. We are concerned that the Commissioner of Taxation's discretion is the only protection against oppressive action. It is also significant that the Law Council takes the strongest possible objection to granting the power to charge, arrest and remand in custody a person without the consent of the Attorney-General or his delegate under the Crimes (Taxation Offences) Act. The tragedy is that the newspapers have not adequately informed the people of Australia about the unprecedented extent of these sweeping changes on the rights of individuals.

An interesting aspect of the legislation relates to the controversial provision that extends the rebate to persons living in de facto relationships but limits it to 'a man and a woman living together as husband and wife'. Under the present Government I wonder how many years it will be before it follows the Australian Broadcasting Corporation type precedent involving homosexuals living together. If the current attitudes to morality persist, the community can expect a change in this legislation by deleting the words 'a man and a woman living together'. This indicates the sort of attitude displayed by the Government.

This Government is a high taxing government. If Labor wins the next election, taxation will be even higher. Personal income tax makes up the largest percentage of taxation revenues since the war. Information from the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) reveals a huge 20 per cent rise in gross pay as you earn collections over the first two months of 1984-85, a 31 per cent reduction in PAYE refunds-what people used to get back but no longer do-and a 33 per cent jump in net PAYE tax receipts. The so-called tax cuts are cuts, but in the light of the figures I have quoted the cuts will be insignificant and will make no great difference to take-home pay. The ordinary working man-not the man on average earnings who is constantly referred to in this place but the ordinary Australian who has to work for his tucker-will be hit to leg. He is the person who will suffer.

We hear constant references to tall poppies, but by seeking to hit the top tax bracket the Government is losing sight of the ordinary person who must manfully share the tax burden in Australia without having the benefits of deductibility which others can get. The Government's tax policies will result this year in the largest annual rise in tax revenue in real terms since the war. That cannot be disputed. It is a high taxing and a high spending Government. We have problems before us.

Mention has already been made of the controversial issue of gifts. In this legislation the fact that the Government mentions a date of 21 August 1984 for gifts of trading stock means that it would be collecting tax on the value of donations of fodder and cattle as well as donations to the Ash Wednesday bush fire appeals, the South Australian flood appeal shortly thereafter, and drought victims, despite promises by Prime Minister Fraser and Prime Minister Hawke. I hope that as a result of joint Opposition unity this injustice will be rectified tonight.

I am also concerned about the selectivity of the Government. I have been concerned for some time about the lack of protection for people investing in credit unions. Credit unions are growing at a tremendous rate. It is extraordinary that the legislation before us tonight extends garnishee provisions to building societies but not to other non-bank financial institutions like credit unions. Why should they be exempt from these sorts of provisions? Why are they so special that they do not need this sort of legislation?

I think it is unfortunate that the Government will not give credit where credit is due. I refer to the Government's decision about the transfer of losses within a company group. The Government makes no mention of the fact that it blocked the previous Fraser Government's similar proposal but now claims that its own proposal is an important initiative, as if it had dreamt it up on the first instance. The people of Australia should be reminded that, unfortunately, the new proposal will apply only to losses incurred in 1984-85, thereby robbing the business sector of the 1982-83 and 1983-84 losses which would have been covered by the previous Government's proposal, had that been translated into law. It would certainly also have been a better Bill if the Government had known the ramifications of its proposals. For example, so far as the transfer of losses within a company group is concerned it has excluded non-voting redeemable preference shares from the 100 per cent ownership requirement for transferring losses. This further demonstrates the lack of understanding of the Government, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, of the Australian capital market and the financing of business enterprises.

The announcement this evening of an unnecessary early election is not surprising because the report of the respected Syntec organisation-the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, was always quoting this organisation when he was in opposition-says that the present business cycle upswing in the Australian economy, although strong, is essentially short term and superficial. No wonder we are having an early election. The Government is not prepared to face the harsh realities of life. It is prepared to take all the benefits of increased revenue as a result of the cessation of the drought. It made unfair comparisons with the Fraser Government's weathering the storm against a downturn in the international cycle, against one of the worst droughts known, and talking about its powers to create a recovery. But now that the signs are pointing the other way, indicating that the upswing cannot be sustained, that there are problems ahead and that the recovery is essentially short term and superficial, the Government is going for an early election. I ask the people of Australia to think before they vote because I believe that if they do so they will realise that this is an unnecessary and unjustified early election.