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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3048

Senator SHORT —I refer the Minister representing the Attorney-General to Press reports that Federal Government tax prosecutors are now very concerned about the difficulty of succeeding in having courts impose penalties against people who adopt what is now known as the `Keating defence', that is, `I was too busy', when facing action for failing to lodge personal income tax returns. I ask the Minister whether he agrees with this reported comment of one prosecutor:

This whole thing has knackered us and made us a laughing stock.

What action is proposed by either the Attorney-General's Department or the Director of Public Prosecutions to cope with the damage resulting from Mr Keating's failure to act in compliance with the taxation laws for which he has ministerial responsibility?

Senator GARETH EVANS —At the moment the only thing that has been knackered in this Parliament is the credibility of the Opposition in seeking to make so much of a matter which is manifestly quite irrelevant to the conduct, not only of the economic affairs of this nation, but also of effective prosecution policy in the tax area. For reasons that have been fully explained by the Treasurer, and by others who have spoken in Question Time today, it is perfectly clear that the policy of the Australian Taxation Office over many years has not been to prosecute people for late filing of returns in circumstances where no tax liability was involved. To that extent I find totally implausible the notion of the prosecution policy or the law enforcement policy of the Commonwealth being put at risk by people making some spurious claim based on a false analogy with what has happened in the case of the Treasurer.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of that response, do I take it from what Senator Evans has said that he disagrees with the comments and views of the Federal Government tax prosecutors, as quoted in the weekend Press?

Senator Walsh —Quoted anonymously.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think Senator Walsh made the point by way of interjection; it is impossible to have a considered view about a statement made by people who refuse to give their identity in circumstances where what they are talking about is manifestly at odds with the reality of tax law enforcement in this country.