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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3049


Senator KNOWLES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is it a fact that, in the wake of the Keating affair, the Australian Taxation Office has changed its procedures for handling inquiries from the media seeking information about Tax Office procedures concerning late lodgment of returns? Is it a fact that callers are now being referred to the department's freedom of information section, required to provide specific details and required to pay a fee whereas, previously, advice was given through the public relations section? Why, and on whose instructions, has this change been made?


Senator WALSH —I do not know whether any changes have been made or the source of the tale that Senator Knowles is peddling in here and, I presume, outside. If the media at any time made an inquiry about the affairs of a particular taxpayer and a taxation officer gave details of that particular taxpayer's affairs, the taxation officer would clearly be in breach of section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. But if the Opposition is interested in--


Senator Durack —You are a real ignoramus, Walsh.


Senator WALSH —There speaks the great-


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walsh, I ask you to respond to Senator Knowles's question and ignore the interjections.


Senator WALSH —With respect, Mr President, if I am not allowed to answer the hibernator, he should not be allowed to interject in the first place. No taxation officer can legally answer inquiries about a particular taxpayer's affairs. I expect that it would be legitimate to answer more general inquiries. As far as I know, no changes have been made to approaches from the media. If there were changes, as I understand it, the only person from whom such a direction could have been given would be the Commissioner of Taxation. I will inquire as to whether any such direction was given or whether this is another furphy that the Liberal Party of Australia is peddling in substitution for policy.


Senator KNOWLES —I ask a supplementary question. To clarify the matter, as Senator Walsh has misrepresented my question, if he is to find out the information may I repeat what it was that I was seeking-whether the Australian Taxation Office has changed its procedure for handling inquiries from the media which seeks information about Tax Office procedures concerning late lodgment of returns.


Senator WALSH —I have answered that, Mr President.