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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3072

Senator SHORT(5.03) —Very briefly, I support the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, for a variety of reasons. Having listened to Senator Robert Ray, it becomes increasingly obvious why the Government has been disputing our wanting to move this motion today. It would appear that Senator Ray, the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, and the Government just do not want to have the subject of taxation discussed in this chamber. The reason why we want to debate the report by the Commissioner of Taxation is that it is a very important report indeed; it is always an important report but the 1985-86 report is even more important than usual. It is essential that it be discussed in the Parliament. If it is not discussed in the Parliament today it will not be discussed at all, that is for sure, and we will go into a vitally important debate on the identity card later this week with the report having passed us by. That is really why the Government is trying to obfuscate this matter a the moment.

The Commissioner's report has been tabled at a time when the subject of taxation has been almost the only topic of conversation in the community for days as a result of the unbelievable arrogant actions of an unbelievably arrogant Treasurer who thinks that he alone is above the very laws for which he personally has direct, sole and total ministerial responsibility. The failure of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) to lodge his 1984-85 tax return until 17 months after the end of the 1984-85 financial year has done more to heighten--

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Short is trespassing beyond even the most flexible possible interpretation of our exceedingly flexible Standing Orders on this matter and he ought to be brought to heel, with the utmost respect, Mr Deputy President.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The subject before the Chair is the question of the suspension of a sessional order.

Senator SHORT —Mr Deputy President, the point I am making is totally relevant because the actions of this Treasurer, who has responsibility for the administration of the taxation laws of this country, in recent days have brought into the community a general attitude of concern about the whole of the taxation system, the administration of government and the administration of laws in this country. It has raised the whole issue of the morality of the community in terms of decency, in terms of paying our share of taxation and the like, and it is directly relevant.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time for consideration of government papers has expired.

Senator Townley —Senator Short is not talking to the papers; he is talking to a motion.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am about to deal with that point, Senator Townley. The time for consideration of government--

Senator Messner —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. May I just seek clarification?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am about to give clarification. The time for consideration of government papers has now expired. The sessional order evidently did not contemplate a debate of this nature taking place and therefore it does not deal with the matter. However, under the ordinary Standing Orders there is no time limit on this debate. I have to call Senator Short.

Senator SHORT —Thank you, Mr Deputy President.

Senator Robert Ray —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Can you give me some assistance? Are we now, therefore, debating a motion to suspend a sessional order to permit a discussion the time allowed for which has already passed?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is correct, Senator Ray. The Opposition might consider its position but as the sessional order is worded, the debate is in order.

Senator Gareth Evans —I seek further clarification. You are not suggesting for a moment are you, Mr Deputy President, that when we do get to the end of this debate, however long it takes, we will still have a half an hour to debate papers? Clearly, the time for consideration of papers has passed.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —When this debate is over, if a vote is taken I will immediately have to rule that the time for consideration of papers has expired.

Senator Gareth Evans —Do the Standing Orders contemplate a nonsense, that is, debating that the Senate should do something which is clearly impossible of achievement? Might I suggest that ordinary rules of statutory interpretation militate against an interpretation which would result in a nonsense.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think I am in the hands of the Senate, in its wisdom, in this case, but as far as the sessional order is concerned this debate is in order. I call Senator Short.

Senator SHORT —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. The Senate is not infrequently called upon to do what Senator Gareth Evans has suggested it cannot do. I was discussing the relevance of the actions of the Treasurer in recent days to the whole of the activities of the Commissioner of Taxation whose report we are trying to have debated in the Senate. I was making the point that the actions of the Treasurer in recent days have done more to heighten the disgust, cynicism and scepticism of the Australian community against politicians and parliament than any other single act that I can remember. This flagrant disregard for the rules of the system has come from a man who has accused and abused his fellow Australians, calling them tax cheats, tax rorters, sleazebags and all the other gutter filthy terms for which he is now in famous, and that goes beyond all the conventions of decency.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Short, this is a debate on the suspension of a sessional order. Your remarks are getting very wide of the subject of the debate. As yet there is no motion before the Chair about the tax rules. I again draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that, although there is a defect in the sessional order-it does not deal with this-this debate has no relevance to and the passing of the motion before the Chair will not affect the consideration of papers. I think honourable senators should be aware of that. Senator Short, would you confine yourself strictly to the matter of the suspension of the sessional orders.

Senator Robert Ray —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. As this motion is to suspend a sessional order and comments must be relevant to that order-in fact, it is not possible to suspend the order-I ask you to rule that any comment is now irrelevant.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think the Senate is rapidly reaching a point of absurdity. Senator Short, do you wish to continue your remarks on the suspension of the sessional order, bearing in mind that if it is suspended the motion can have no effect?

Senator SHORT —I would just like to make a couple of points in addition to those I have made, because if we do not follow this through the whole thing will become an absurdity and what we were talking about is a very important matter. I repeat what I said earlier: If we do not debate the report of the Commissioner of Taxation this week, we are within probably 48 hours of going into one of the most important debates that this Senate has ever undertaken, namely, the question of whether we introduce an identity card in Australia.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I think this debate has reached a point at which I must implement standing order 397. I do not think the Senate can go on with a debate which, even when concluded, can have no possible effect. So I rule that the Senate must go on with its ordinary business.

Senator Michael Baume —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. It is a matter of some moment whether the Senate should have suspended sessional order to allow the discussion of this report. In a sense, the debate now on whether the sessional order should be suspended relates very significantly indeed to the impropriety, if you like, of the Government's seeking not to allow this to happen and blocking the proper discussion of the report.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Michael Baume, make your point of order clear. What was your point of order?

Senator Michael Baume —The point of order is that it is a relevant and proper debate to debate the suspension of sessional order because of the propriety of the Government's opposition to debating the report. Therefore, the debate itself is not irrelevant, it is not improper, and it does have a bearing on the proceedings of the Senate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Baume, your comments are becoming a reflection on the ruling I have given. I will explain again to the Senate the situation that has arisen. We have 30 minutes by sessional order for the consideration of papers; Senator Chaney moved that the sessional order be suspended so that the order could be changed; the time for consideration of Government Papers has now expired, so no motion could possibly have any effect. At that point, I now rule that the Senate should get on with its business and not debate a motion which could have no effect even if agreed to.

Motion (by Senator Messner)-by leave-agreed to:

That the Government Papers tabled earlier this day be called on at the consideration of Government Papers, pursuant to Sessional Order, on the next day of sitting.