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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2575

Senator MESSNER(10.44) —in reply-I am absolutely flabbergasted by the attitude of the Australian Democrats and of Senator Coates, although Senator Coates's position is somewhat more understandable in the light of the likelihood that he will take over Senator Grimes's seat in the Ministry once Senator Grimes shakes off his Senate coil. Consequently, Senator Coates will continue to do the bidding of the front bench of the Labor Government while he sits on the back bench. But it should be remembered at the same time that he is the Chairman of what is supposed to be and is perceived to be a non-partisan committee of the Parliament. The motion I have moved today involves what is very much a non-partisan issue-the consideration of administrative issues within a very important arm of government. It certainly raises very few political issues or things that might create the divisions which he apparently fears-which fears, as Senator Short has pointed out, are totally baseless. This must draw us to the conclusion that Senator Coates is driven by forces which he understands but will not explain to us fully in this place.

The other point I would like to draw to the attention of honourable senators is the attitude of the Australian Democrats. I am horrified by it. When this motion was discussed originally back in June this year I had nothing but encouragement from the former Leader of the Democrats, Senator Chipp.

Senator Short —Because he realised that it was an important issue.

Senator MESSNER —Yes, he did. He gave me his support at that time. Quite clearly he was very interested in the welfare of citizens, and could see the potential damage to their rights and believed that it would be good to support such a motion. Now Senator Chipp has moved to holier and other grounds and we have the new leadership of Senator Haines, who comes from South Australia and apparently has changed her mind about this matter. She clearly has very little interest in the rights of citizens. I suspect that one of the reasons for that is that she is on the embarrassing side of arguments about support for the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax, the pensions assets test and the lump sum superannuation tax. Senator Haines would not want any questions raised about those matters in this place or in the public arena. Consequently she has changed her mind from the attitude of Senator Chipp which is most wholesome and useful and which definitely gives a great deal of encouragement to forces within the community which are seeking, or were seeking, to put forward in a non-political arena their views about the problems in the administration of the Australian Taxation Office.

It is not as though these matters have not been properly documented. Senator Coates knows quite well that reports of the Auditor-General and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure demonstrate very significant problems in the administration of the Tax Office. Leaving aside those matters, we are concerned here chiefly and supremely with the rights of individual taxpayers. We assert that those rights have been challenged severely by changes to the laws which have been so rapid that few people can understand the implications and what will be the eventual effects. Government senators choose to take another view. I am disappointed that that is so. They are not thinking clearly about their constituents and the rights of taxpayers. In my opinion, it is a disgrace in the context of this motion that a chairman of a Senate committee in this place can accuse Opposition senators of supporting tax cheats. We are seeking justice for people. The honourable senator would understand better than most that there is a great deal of opportunity for the rights of individuals to be infringed by bureaucratic actions. I know that he is concerned with those issues. He should be concerned about them for taxpayers but, for his own obvious political and personal ambitions, he chooses not to support this motion.

One final small point that really shows the hypocrisy of Labor senators in this matter is that this Government recently introduced legislation to provide that, whereas people used to be able to lodge an appeal against a taxation assessment with a deposit of $2, the amount raised to $200, so that little people with small tax disputes will now have to lodge with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal a sum of $200 to have their appeals heard. This is a disgrace and will take many people out of the realm of pursuing their disputes with the Tax Office. That kind of small point goes to the very root of what is happening to justice for taxpayers and which the Taxation Office is only assisting by its administrative procedures, bureaucratic actions, bullying tactics and other big brother approaches which make sure that people are frightened out of claiming their just desserts.

On the $200 appeal charge that has now been imposed by this Government, if a taxpayer is turned down by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and subsequently pursues his or her appeal to the Federal Court of Australia or some other court, the fee then chargeable is an extra $300. An ordinary workman might be disallowed a claim for a deduction against his income of $50 or $100 for his work clothes. That is peanuts to anybody such as Senator Coates but to that man it might be a great deal of money. Such a person would find that in order to chase his appeal over $100 through the legal system this Government has erected he will have to lodge $500. Clearly, people are going to make a judgment that it is not worth risking that kind of money in the appeals system. Surely that does not bring justice for ordinary taxpayers into the system; the reverse is so.

Honourable senators on the Labor benches were party to abrogating significantly the rights of ordinary taxpayers in this country. I am tal-king about the very ordinary taxpayers. Clearly, those who have substantial issues to pursue and prospects of gaining, say, millions of dollars from tax decisions in the courts will not worry about lodging $500, but the small people of this country will. They are the ones who will suffer from the Government's actions. That is one of the issues we are seeking to have examined by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which Senator Coates chairs. I must say that I am absolutely disgusted with the attitude taken by Senator Coates in not supporting a bipartisan examination of these issues. I am even more disgusted with the attitude of the Australian Democrats.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Messner's) be agreed to.