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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3350

Senator SHORT(12.13) —I just want to speak briefly on one aspect of the legislation before the House; namely, the change being made in the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 4) to increase the filing fee on applications for appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from $2 to $200. Senator Siddons has already spoken on it and, more importantly, Senator Messner led the debate for the Opposition.

I support Senator Messner and Senator Siddons in expressing concern about this proposal which was introduced earlier in the Budget with no warning at all. It was not mentioned in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Keating). The proposal was buried away on page 292 of one of the Budget statements. No reasons were given either in the Budget Papers or in the second reading debate on the legislation now before the Senate. Quite clearly, it would appear that the proposal is entirely a revenue raising item. In imposing such an impost the Government has obviously paid no regard to the other implications for ordinary taxpayers. The increase in the fee is yet another charge by the Government on the ordinary taxpayers and wage earners in Australia. That charge has been compounded progressively from the day this Government came into office with ever increasing burdens on the ordinary people of Australia, not just the wealthy but, more particularly, it is the people that this Government claims it supports; namely, the average income earner and average taxpayer.

The whole effect of what the Government has done with this filing fee increase-an increase from $2 to $200-is to inhibit the smaller taxpayers from exercising their legitimate and fundamental legal rights. The whole object of tribunals of review set up to look at administrative decisions of the bureaucracy is to provide inexpensive and informal machinery whereby ordinary people can be satisfied and assured that they are being dealt with on a fair and unbiased basis in their relationships with government. Therefore, any changes that we make in these areas in terms of the machinery that applies to tribunals of the nature of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and other review tribunals should be facilitating and not hindering the access to this fundamental right.

The $200 filing fee reduces the machinery and takes it outside the reach of many ordinary people. Why would a person spend or risk $200? Assuming that a person has $200, why would he or she risk losing that money-because it is refundable only in the event of a successful appeal-to seek Administrative Appeals Tribunal review of a taxation decision where the amount of money involved in the refund may be $200 or less? It may be that an unsuccessful appeal-one can never be certain on those matters-will lead to an automatic loss to the taxpayer. Even if he wins his appeal he still may be behind in dollar terms.

It is quite certain that the impact of this measure will detract from the rights of the small and the ordinary taxpayers in this country. This is at a time when public confidence in the taxation system and the administration of the taxation laws in this country have been put under very serious and possibly haemorrhaged risk by the disclosures last week of the quite unconscionable apparent favourable treatment that the Treasurer of this country has received on taxation matters, vis-a-vis every other person in Australia. We should be building up public confidence in our systems of government and of justice. To take steps-the filing fee proposal is one-which will have the effect of undermining public confidence and undermining the whole basis on which appeal tribunals in this country are based is, I think, a very serious matter indeed. It also comes at a time when the Taxation Commissioner is being given increasing discretion for his actions and measures. Therefore, that is even more reason for having a cheap, accessible, fair and unbiased review and appeal system. If we keep going down the route the Government is taking us with these types of measures, the Government is not just doing damage to the taxation system and more particularly to the rights of small, ordinary individual taxpayers and wage earners in Australia, but it is also doing a great deal of damage to the undermining of public confidence in the whole system of justice and the whole system of government in this country.

I regret in many ways that, as the Opposition, we are not formally voting against this proposal. We are not doing so because we took the very principled decision at the outset that the Government is entitled to its Budget. That is the only reason we are not opposing this legislation; it is the only reason we are not supporting the Australian Democrats' amendments. It is no less an expression of the concern that we feel about this matter because it goes to the roots of many of the basic rights of individuals in this country.