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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3020

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.02) —Mr President, it is embarrassing to have to admit that although this proposal for a discussion of a matter of public importance was submitted at only 12.30 this afternoon it is already out of date because the double standards of this Government have been demonstrated most recently at Question Time. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) was the latest example with his admission last night that, after all his pontificating on taxes, he had failed to lodge a tax return for something like 15 months. But today in Question Time we had the usual performance from Senator Walsh, and indeed even from Senator Button. They went from being great critics of anyone who in any way got into difficulties with the taxation system to being great defenders of the Treasurer, the leading light among those in the Government who have abused other people for their standards.

Today is a particularly appropriate time to propose this matter because hundreds of thousands of Australians have been told by this Government, the Treasurer, Senator Walsh, Senator Button and the rest of the rag-bag lot of them that they must lodge their first fringe benefits tax returns and they must lodge with those returns the cheque for the tax which has been incurred. Anybody who has dared to suggest that there should be some delay or some failure to pay has been traduced in this Senate and accused of everything from treason on. Today is the day when very many Australians are focusing on the tax policies of this Government, and many will be focusing on the miserable performance of the present Treasurer. Thousands are being subjected to new burdens and new paperwork. Senator Button described that paperwork as horrific but it is still being applied to the people of Australia.

In this debate we will actually have a defence of the Treasurer by Senator Richardson. I think that says a lot about this Government's attitude to Mr Keating and to this issue of double standards. Look at the situation. Senator Button has busily cultivated a reputation for honesty. There is no way that he could come in here and debate the Government's double standards without dobbing his Government in as he has so often done from his chair opposite. What about Senator Walsh, that particular exponent of double standards? There is no way he could enter this debate without eating every word he has said at Question Time for the last year. What about Senator Gareth Evans? He is a great defence counsel; I think Senator Evans, QC, appeared in court once or twice!

Senator Durack —And lost.

Senator CHANEY —Yes, he lost. Perhaps if he came into the debate he could quote the brilliant speeches he made about ministerial responsibility when he said: `If you do not live up to the highest possible standards you should resign'. There is no way Senator Gareth Evans could participate in this debate. There is no way he could sit alongside Mr Keating if he applied the principles that he described when he was trying to bring down Liberal Ministers. I suppose Senator Susan Ryan could have spoken in the debate but, fortunately for her, she had better things to do. Senator Gietzelt's specialty is trying public servants in the Senate. He is exhausted at the end of a week of traducing Air Vice-Marshal Flemming and not leaving the matter for the processes of the law which are available to both him and Air Vice-Marshal Flemming.

Honourable senators opposite are a disgraceful rag-tag lot. The fact that they have the leader of the right wing faction of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party defending Mr Keating speaks for itself. It is a great pity. Perhaps Senator Richardson will tell us about his history in the New South Wales Labor Party. We could have a debate on the Enmore matter and the other sordid incidents with which he is associated. All I can say is that if the best the Labor Party can do is to produce Senator Richardson to defend the government and Mr Keating, that really is pathetic. He would certainly have wanted to receive absolution from the Pope, who is now visiting Australia, before indulging in this debate.

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Senate will come to order. I cannot hear Senator Chaney.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, all I can say is that you have really been missing something. Why are we concerned about the failure of Mr Keating to lodge a tax return for 15 months? We are concerned because Mr Keating has gone around Australia reading lessons to the people of Australia.

Senator Lewis —Cheating.

Senator CHANEY —One of my colleagues inserts the word `cheating'. Exactly; that is what the Treasurer is doing; he is cheating on the words he has been thrusting down the throats of the Australian people. This is what Mr Keating said:

The Hawke Government is committed to stamping out tax evasion . . .

I ask honourable senators to note those words. They do not refer to avoidance; they refer to illegal behaviour-evasion. He went on to say:

Among the most common tax offences are failure to furnish information to the Tax Commissioner and failure to file a return.

And what has Mr Keating done? Failed for 15 months to lodge a return. We have been hearing today about equal treatment. We heard the pathetic response of Senator Walsh to the story of an Australian citizen who obtained an extension of time for the lodging of his tax return, lodged it a bit after the extended date and was prosecuted and fined $200. We await with interest the prosecution of the Treasurer and his fining. When we see that we will believe there is a bit of equality of treatment in this country rather than the sort of cronyism and toadyism that we have seen as part of this Government. What this Minister, Mr Keating, has imposed on the--

Senator Elstob —We don't defend tax cheats.

Senator CHANEY —`We don't defend tax cheats'?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Elstob.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I will not be distracted by Senator Elstob. Senator Elstob would not wake up to the fact that his backside was on fire, let alone if there were a tax cheat in the Cabinet.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw that remark.

Senator CHANEY —I withdraw it. He would know it. He would be aware if that happened, Mr President. Mr Keating has imposed on the people of Australia a doubling of the penalties which will be paid by taxpayers. We in the Senate supported the Treasurer when he doubled those burdens on taxpayers and now we find that the Treasurer himself is in breach of the principles he has trumpeted on so much. It was Mr Keating who identified this failure to lodge tax returns as the most common tax offence when he expressed his determination and the determination of the Government to stamp it out. Mr President, you can imagine that we just did not believe it when the copy of the letter from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation was handed to us. We thought this could not be true; no Minister could be so stupid. That is why Mr Carlton sent the letter to the Treasurer asking him to tell us whether it was true.

Senator Button —That is the charge, isn't it; stupid, careless?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Button, the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard.

Senator CHANEY —We could not believe our eyes when we saw this letter. We asked the Treasurer. We said: `It surely cannot be right'. The shadow Treasurer wrote to him in these terms: `Dear Paul, I enclose a copy of what purports to be a letter addressed to you from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation'.

Senator Knowles —Which address, Sydney or Canberra?

Senator CHANEY —It was not sent to his `permanent place of residence' in Sydney, as a result of which he collects all that travelling allowance; no, it was sent to him in Parliament House, Canberra. We did not believe that the Treasurer could be guilty of this. But, of course, last night the Treasurer made it clear that he is guilty of this. He made it clear that he is responsible for his own tax returns and that he failed to get them in. I hope that all taxpayers in Australia are receiving the sort of courtesy that has been handed out to the Treasurer by the Commissioner of Taxation. The Deputy Commissioner of Taxation wrote to Mr Keating on 3 November 1986, 15 months or so after his failure to file a return, and said:

As recently discussed your 1985 return is also well overdue.

I challenge the Government to produce a letter from any Deputy Commissioner of Taxation or the Commissioner of Taxation which treats the ordinary taxpayers of Australia with those kid gloves. I can only say that there is an appalling ignorance of the procedures of the Australian Taxation Office and of the sorts of curt, sharp messages that are ejected by the Taxation Office computer, the summonses which are delivered and the prosecutions which are imposed. Mr Keating instead was rung up by the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation and then sent this softly, softly letter. I seek leave to incorporate this letter in Hansard as a record of the treatment afforded the Treasurer in comparison with the treatment afforded the people of Australia.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-


7 Hunter Street, Sydney

(GPO Box 4197, Sydney 2001)

3 November 1986

The Hon. P. J. Keating MP

14 Fishburn Street

Red Hill, A.C.T. 2603

Dear Mr Keating,

The purpose of this letter is to draw your attention to the need for you to file your 1986 income tax return which is now outstanding.

As recently discussed your 1985 return is also well overdue.

I appreciate how busy you have been but I ask that you now give urgent attention to the filing of your returns especially that for the 1985 year.

Should you wish your return can be posted marked for attention: Ms YVONNE ELLIS, Liaison Officer, Priority Control Section, GPO Box 3523, Sydney, NSW 2000.

If you wish to deliver your return you could contact Ms Ellis on 236-7341 or 236-7610 or myself.

Your co-operation and early response would be appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

D. J. Cortese

Deputy Commissioner of Taxation

Senator CHANEY —This debate is significant because this man has accused the rest of Australia of rorting and cheating. He has committed what he himself describes as the most common tax offence. It is not the Treasurer's only peccadillo. This Treasurer is the man who has been defended by honourable senators opposite for his collection of more than $17,000 worth of travel allowance because he claims his principal place of residence is in Sydney.

Senator Richardson —Tell us about Ralph Hunt.

Senator CHANEY —Let me make it quite clear that I think that all of these records can be examined but the simple tests that apply are: Where one lives, where is one's wife, where are one's children and where one goes when one is not working. That simple test could be so easily applied. This is the second time that this man, who goes around preaching about cheating and rorting, has been caught. He has been caught on this occasion with his fingers in the till to the tune of $17,000, and it is a disgrace.

Senator Elstob —I object to that.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw that remark.

Senator CHANEY —I withdraw the remark. He has been caught indulging in a practice which has netted him $17,000 in a situation in which clearly the letter of the law has been flouted.

Senator Button —I take a point of order. It is not sufficient to withdraw and then restate the same proposition in slightly different language. I ask that the comment be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —Under standing order 418 I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw any imputation against the Treasurer that he made in his remarks.

Senator CHANEY —I am sorry, Mr President, I want to know what words I am being asked to withdraw.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I am asking the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the imputation contained in his remarks about the Treasurer.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I do not want to waste any more time--

The PRESIDENT —That the Treasurer was engaging in a practice of taking $17,000, I think, was the phrase.

Senator CHANEY —I withdraw whatever I have to withdraw--

The PRESIDENT —It is clear in my mind that there was an imputation against a member of another House--

Senator CHANEY —It was not an imputation, it was a clear statement.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw that remark.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I withdraw whatever imputation you force me to withdraw. I will not spend more time on that because time is too limited. I simply turn to what I think is one of the most objectionable features of this two-faced Government, and that is the way it attacks anybody who can be identified in any way with the Liberal Party of Australia, the support of the Liberal Party or indeed opposition to the Government. I need do no more than remind the Senate of Question Time on 12 November in which Ministers, not only Senator Walsh but also others, attacked Mr Clarke, Mr Ellicott, Mr Andrew Hay, Mr John Hay, the late Sir Phillip Lynch, Lady Lynch and Mr Moran. I simply say to this Government that its total hypocrisy in these matters, its capacity to single out anybody who is seen to be in opposition to it and to use this chamber to blackguard them is one of the most unpleasant developments in politics over a very long time.

I remind the Senate of the frequent attacks on Mr John Elliott for saying no more than what was said by Mr Charlie Fitzgibbon. It was Mr Charlie Fitzgibbon, a trade unionist who no doubt has the respect of the people opposite, who said that there was no way that he would put his money into Australian companies. He said: `I would put whatever money I owned in fixed term investments'. We have not heard any traducing of Mr Charlie Fitzgibbon, but Mr Elliott is fair game because he dares to identify himself with the Liberal Party. We saw the traducing of the late Sir Phillip Lynch and Lady Lynch; yet what have we heard from the Government about the land dealings of Dawkins? Nothing. There is a total double standard in that matter. We heard from the Government that I was involved in tax cheating because of my membership of a law firm two weeks before the Government appointed my partner of those years, Mr Ian Temby, as Director of Public Prosecutions. That is what I mean by double standards. I, because I am a Liberal politician, am held up as a friend of tax cheats at the same time as this Government is appointing my partner of those years to be the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has the responsibility for bringing tax cheats to book.

I remind the Senate of the treatment of Mr Temby. He was defended by the Government when it appointed him, when some people criticised his appointment because of the politics of it, and what happened? As soon as he prosecuted some Labor functionary, the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party which is best represented here by Senator Richardson, who will speak in this debate, called for his dismissal and removal. They are the standards of this Government. The standards of this Government do not exist. It traduces those who stand in its way.

Senator Button —Nobody here called for his dismissal.

Senator CHANEY —Senator Button makes a distinction. Let us hear the distinction drawn by Senator Richardson-no-one here called for Mr Temby's dismissal. I am pleased to hear that. But let Senator Richardson explain the attitude of his cohorts in the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party. It was a disgusting example of the politicisation of things that should not be political in this country. Let me again draw attention to the contrast between the attitude of the Government in this place when a retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia was traduced over and over again, by Senator Walsh in particular, and the attempts to get a proper investigation of serious allegations relating to another High Court judge blocked, blocked, blocked until this Government was forced to appoint a commission. This Government appointed that Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry only because in the end inquiries showed that a commission was absolutely necessary. That is another example of the sort of double standards that are disgusting about this Government. Over and over again we get a traducing of a man who is now sick and old and unable to defend himself and that should be contrasted with the treatment of someone whom this Government regarded as part of its own.

They are the sorts of illogicalities and hypocrisies that are sickening. Look at the difference between the treatment of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Mr Burke. Day after day we hear the Queensland Government being traduced in this place, but when I raised the question about the involvement of the Western Australian Labor Government in the re-evaluation of shares in the Fremantle Gas and Coke Co. there was a total lack of interest. Note the difference-a total lack of interest on the part of the Government after weeks, months and indeed years of traducing Senator Florence Bjelke-Petersen, her husband and the Queensland Government. It is a disgrace.

It not only occurs in this Senate. Look at the efforts of Mr Hayden who, in the House of Representatives last year, made an attack on Mr David Barnett. What was the basis of his attack-that David Barnett had written about the political affiliations of public servants. Mr Hayden said how disgusting it was that a journalist should criticise public servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs because of their political affiliations. He then went on to attack Mr David Barnett for his political affiliations. In this place we had another example of the Walsh syndrome-the misquoting of figures to blacken the name of a man who had once worked for the Liberal Party and who is now working as a journalist. That is what this matter of public importance is about. This Treasurer is just the latest example of double standards. We in the Opposition, who have to put up with the worst examples of that through the tongue of Senator Walsh day by day, wish to express our disgust at the lack of any standards on the part of this Government.

The PRESIDENT —I call Senator Richardson.

Senator Chaney —Send in the organ grinder.