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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3503

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I would like to thank you for the fair and impartial conduct of Question Time over the many years of your distinguished period in the Chair.

The PRESIDENT —If you keep that up you will get another one.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to his response on 1 December to a question from Senator Sheil in which he claimed it was intellectually dishonest to relate September's statement from the Treasurer that `among the most common tax offences are failure to furnish information to the Commissioner and failure to file a return' to the Treasurer's present personal situation. As Senator Button said, `anyone who reads that passage ought to understand that he was talking about failure to file a return at all, not simply to do so late'. I therefore ask the Minister: Why did the 1985-86 annual report of the Commissioner of Taxation show that 170,999 Australians were forced to pay a total of $45.4m in taxation penalties last year-I quote from that report-because of `a failure to lodge a return or furnish information by the required date'? Why did the Minister apparently deliberately leave off the phrase `by the required date' from the Commissioner's report? What is the difference between the Treasurer and those 170,999 other Australians who were penalised last year for failing to lodge returns on time, quite apart from the 37,000 taxpayers prosecuted and fined $11m for failure to provide a return at all? How many of these--

The PRESIDENT —Order! Now you are spoiling the question, Senator Baume.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —This is the concluding element, Mr President. It demonstrates how fair you are. How many of these 170,999 Australians were guilty of no greater an offence than the Treasurer who, unlike them, has escaped penalty tax altogether?

Senator BUTTON —I think we have been through this before, but let me go through it again for the benefit of the simpler minded. I used the expression `failure to furnish information' and `failure to file a return' without looking at the Taxation Commissioner's ruling on that matter. I used that expression in that way because that was precisely the terminology which Senator Chaney used and, as I recall it, precisely the terminology which the other Liberal senator who asked me a question about it used. I do not think the words the honourable senator has referred to were added. As I have said on numerous occasions, the relationship between the Commissioner of Taxation and an individual taxpayer is a relationship in respect of which I am no more entitled to particular information than is the honourable senator. I hoped we had reached that point in Question Time earlier this week. In respect of the 170,999 to whom Senator Michael Baume refers, I just give the same answer: In each case it is a question of the Commissioner's discretion. As Senator Walsh has said on numerous occasions, people who file late returns and who do not have a bad record of late filing of returns are not, as a matter of practice, as I understand it, subject to a penalty. Those who have a bad record are, as a matter of practice, subject to a penalty.

Senator Walters —That is not correct.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Walters, presumably, knows better because apparently she lies under the bed or sits behind the couch when the Tax Commissioner is negotiating delicately with defaulting taxpayers. She hears it all.

Senator Chaney —He does a lot of delicate negotiating and a lot of prosecuting.

Senator BUTTON —I understand that, but I am talking about Senator Walters's interjection. She apparently knows better than the Tax Commissioner what happens in these matters-I do not. While the honourable senator's question may contain the results of some arduous research, and no doubt exhausting research, by him, it contains no new material which requires an answer.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I apologise for asking a supplementary question today. I specifically asked: How many of these 170,999 Australians were guilty of no greater an offence than the Treasurer? I ask the Minister to provide an answer from the Taxation Commissioner which does not involve the revealing of any personal information. It is a specific request to find out how many of those 170,999 in fact simply put in a later return on the same basis as the Treasurer?

Senator Walsh —You ought to get the Waste Watch Committee on to the cost of answering that.

Senator BUTTON —I do not mind endeavouring to seek a general answer on that question. Senator Walsh has interjected and provided me with some information which I had intended to use anyway. It is a completely useless interjection, if I might say so. As I understand it, Senator Michael Baume is Chairman of the Liberal Party Waste Watch Committee. He wants a whole lot of people in the Australian Taxation Office and elsewhere poring over these figures in order that we can obtain an answer to this slightly ridiculous question. If I might say so, looking at the honourable senator, he would be better advised to watch his own waste than to worry about the Taxation Commissioner involving himself with that sort of nonsense.