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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3024

Senator RICHARDSON(3.20) —We have already had the monkey. He just spoke. I have just listened to a member of the Liberal Party of Australia lecturing the Hawke Government on double standards. I listened to Senator Chaney complaining about the chamber being used to traduce people's reputations. Yet he not only condoned but also promoted some members of his back bench doing it to me only two weeks ago. The fact that they were slaughtered in the attempt shows up just how poor they are. But when it comes to double standards, we had years of looking to Liberal governments to tell us just what they were about.

It is only a few weeks since the last attack on the Treasurer (Mr Keating) failed. The last attack on the Treasurer was over the matter of his travelling allowance, which Senator Chaney mentioned. But what happened when the Opposition raised this matter? All of a sudden, one by one, the old Ministers, the ones who learnt the system while they were in government, came out. First we had Ralph Hunt saying: `By the way, I do the same thing'. Then we had Sinclair saying: `I think I have done the same thing too'. If honourable senators want to check the records they should look at Tony Street. What did Senator Chaney do in all those years to stop any of this? He did absolutely nothing. Senator Chaney, the Prime Minister whom he served under and the Treasurer whom he served under all did nothing, yet the Opposition comes into this chamber and lectures us about double standards.

Senator Chaney, at the end of a parliamentary session, with the Liberal Party of Australia collapsing all around him, jumps up to grab an issue and once again plays the man. Members of the Opposition will not come in here and argue about economic policy; there is no chance of that. We had three weeks of Question Time in the Senate when all they did was question Senator Gietzelt about the Australian War Memorial. Important though that may be, I have to inform the Liberal Party that it is not the biggest national issue. It never could be. Opposition senators will not get up and debate the economy because Keating has always had the answers and they have been slapped down too easily. We now have a matter of public importance which has been born out of the miserable fear and desperation of a party going down the drain and a leader going down the drain with it. As members of the Opposition cannot match the Treasurer on the argument of principle, they have a go at his propriety. That is the standard that they have set. We on this side of the Senate do not have that sort of standard.

I want to go through some of the arguments that Senator Chaney raised. I might say that singularly lacking in any of them were specific criticisms of the Treasurer. He went through a litany of alleged sins of all sorts of people. Let me quote from a couple of taxation rulings which are publicly available, not secret documents. Ruling 2372 states:

Additional tax for late lodgment generally is not calculated where the assessment results in a credit or refund.

What will happen in Paul Keating's case? He will receive a refund. I think it is worth while, even for Senator Chaney, to listen to ruling 2246, which states:

Where it seems clear that a person has no residual tax liability or is due for a refund, it is desirable . . . that other efforts to obtain lodgment of returns are made (such as telephone contact with the person) before . . . action is instituted.

I reckon that the Liberal Party ought to look at those rulings, because they are the rulings of the Commissioner of Taxation, they are the rulings that are available to the Australian public and they are the rulings by which every citizen, from the lowest to the highest in the land, must abide. Those rulings do not indicate that Paul Keating has committed any major crime. They indicate nothing of the sort. Paul Keating regrets what he did; he said that publicly last night. He went into the House of Representatives and told the world what happened. He told it honestly and truthfully, as he always does.

Let us look further at the pathetic performance of Senator Chaney on the question of double standards. Today we are talking about tax. The double standard of honourable senators opposite was set on tax avoidance. Do we not all remember what Frank Costigan had to say? Do we not remember him saying that, under the previous Government, tax avoidance was the only growth industry to match the heady days of the Victorian gold rush? The problem with the Liberal Government was that that was the only industry it could get to grow. It protected tax avoiders year after year. The too-hard basket in John Howard's office just piled up. The previous Government was not game to take on tax avoidance.

The Opposition, having been exposed in all those matters, not only is not game to do anything about tax avoidance but also is not game to tell us anything that it is prepared to do. Its tax policy remains hidden-the light under the bushel. Where is the Opposition's tax policy? We have waited breathlessly for two years and we have got nothing from the Opposition. There are two reasons for that. There are no intellects in the Opposition to think one up but, in any event, there are too many divisions. The Opposition cannot sort it out. It has tried time and again to come up with any sort of tax policy and it has totally failed.

Let us look at the specifics of Paul Keating's situation which the Opposition has failed to go into. The Treasurer was to receive a letter dated 3 November which advised him that his income tax return was overdue and that he should lodge it. He never received that letter from the Deputy Commissioner because it was stolen from the mail and miraculously found its way to Jim Carlton. The first time the Treasurer knew that it existed was Tuesday morning when he was contacted by the Commissioner of Taxation. The Treasurer advised the Commissioner that he had prepared the return and that it would be lodged. It was lodged that day. The Treasurer is a pay as you earn taxpayer and he expects to receive a refund on that 1985 return. The Commonwealth was not being disadvantaged; Paul Keating was being disadvantaged by not having had the time to put it in. The cost of the delay in lodging the return will, therefore, be borne by the Treasurer. There is no question of the Treasurer trying to evade or avoid paying tax. That is not to say that he should not have lodged the return earlier. Of course he should have. As he has expressed it, it is a matter of regret that he did not.

However, in view of those rules, it is hard to get all that excited about this matter. The facts are that thousands of ordinary taxpayers get their tax returns in late. I would love to do a survey of the Opposition, the Government and the gallery to see how many people have ever been guilty of not filing a return by the right day. I think we would find that an awful lot of people would have to make that terrible admission. But how terrible is that admission? The reality is that it is a very small matter-hardly, one might say, a hanging offence.

What would have happened under the standards set during the years of the Fraser Government? Honourable senators should remember what happened to Minister Nixon. The previous Government set up a royal commission to inquire into him. When he was found guilty what did the previous Government do? Did it abide by the terms of the royal commission? No. Yet it lectures us on double standards. The former Prime Minister got up and bucketed the royal commissioner. That was the previous Government's only response. It was a case of protecting Nixon at any cost and that is what it did. This Government, on the other hand, has set a new standard for ministerial behaviour. We have a register of interests. Ministers and members of the back bench in the House of Representatives and, I dare say, in the Senate shortly will have to make their affairs available for public scrutiny. Government members have not objected to doing so. Our Ministers have come forward cleanly, in the light of day. But nothing that happens in the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia is ever seen in the light of day, particularly their tax policies.

Nothing that Paul Keating has done reflects one iota on his integrity or his honesty. All it reflects is the fact that Paul Keating has spent hours and hours every day of the year for four years making this country a better place to live in. The fact that he got a tax return in late is just not the end of the world. The Opposition wants to lecture us about double standards but what do we see when we go through all the names? Look at what happened to Garland. Look at what happened to Lynch. Look at what happened to Sinclair. I could go on and on. But for honourable senators opposite it did not matter what was the sin of these people; it was a matter of how much influence they had as to whether they were removed. If they were in the National Party of Australia-the old tail wagging the dog-the sky was the limit. It did not matter what one did, one was safe. There was no way Malcolm would take them on-they were right.

Senator Chaney —What about Glen Sheil?

Senator RICHARDSON —Someone has just reminded me of Glen Sheil. I must say, Mr President, that I would not have raised the matter, but as it has been raised--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will refer to his senatorial colleague as Senator Sheil.

Senator RICHARDSON —I apologise. I was merely repeating the words used by Senator Chaney. Senator Sheil had a time as a Minister. I could be forgiven for forgetting that because it was not very long.

Senator Colston —Twenty-three hours.

Senator RICHARDSON —I was not sure how long it was but I am informed that it was 23 hours. I knew that if I blinked I would miss it. But I remember why he was removed. We all know that Malcolm Fraser had a commitment on South Africa which we share. I think it was reasonable to suppose that in all of the years he was in politics he would get something right and he did. He had my full support in removing Senator Sheil from office. However, one should look at what our Government has done in respect of standards of ministerial propriety. We have put those matters out for scrutiny. Our Ministers have passed the test every time and Paul Keating has passed it again on this occasion. Mick Young faced two inquiries and passed both. That is why Mick Young is still a Minister and why he is still a thorn in the side of the Opposition in the other place.

Paul Keating, in receiving the letter from the Tax Office, has not been treated any differently from any taxpayer in this country. What we have also done is made sure that no matter which rung a person is on in this country, from the bottom to the top, people get treated fairly and equally. So Paul Keating got a letter; big deal. He got the same letter that is sent to thousands of taxpayers every year. When he got up and admitted it and regretted it that should have been the end of the matter. But it was not for the lot opposite. When they are going down the drain they will grab on to anything. If this is the best they can grab on to I have to say: `God help you; no one else will'.

The Opposition demands the Treasurer's resignation. Presumably, if the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) got a parking ticket he would have to resign; that would be pretty terrible. If the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren) paid his rates late, he would have to resign; that would be pretty terrible. But that is the size of this issue. It is a trivial issue; it is nothing.

There is no question of financial gain for the Treasurer. There is no question of ministerial impropriety. There has been no attempt to withhold information from the Parliament. There has been no attempt to cover up. The Opposition is trying to smear the Treasurer. It has tried before and failed. It will fail in any attempt to traduce the Treasurer or anybody else. Any party that tolerates on its front bench someone like the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), who is a member of the other place, has to be joking when it lectures anyone on this side about double standards. We have seen the bucket jobs he comes up with. I ask Senator Chaney to tell us how proud he is of those. Let Senator Chaney get up and defend the honourable member for O'Connor; let him tell me what a great man he is and how he is an addition to this Parliament. When it comes to double standards, they belong to the John Howards and the Senator Chaneys who put people like the honourable member for O'Connor up at the front, who encourage him, promote him and let him drop the buckets. But what happened to the honourable member for O'Connor? Like all the buckets that members of the Opposition drop-he could not hit the broadside of a barn from five paces anyway-they all missed.

The Treasurer goes from strength to strength. I have to say this: When it comes to the new year and we resume in February I am certain of one thing-I am certain that the Treasurer will still be the Treasurer and will still be running our economy. But I am not at all certain that John Howard or Fred Chaney will still hold the offices they hold today.