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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1522


Senator BOLKUS —I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether the Government is aware of proposals to alter the statute of limitations for the collection of taxes so that it would apply from when a tax liability was first incurred rather than from when the tax liability was finally determined. What would be the advantages of such a proposal, and will the Government move to alter the statute in regard to the collection of taxes in this way?


Senator WALSH —The answer to the last part of the question is an unequivocal no. The answer to the first part of the question, which asked whether the Government was aware of these proposals and so on, is yes. I am aware of them and I am sure the Treasurer is, and probably a number of other people are. The proposals have been floated recently to reverse the Taxation Administration Amendment (Recovery of Tax Debts) Act which was passed by the Parliament last year. Those proposals emerged from the National Party of Australia Federal Council meeting held last weekend, at which a Queensland delegate who was given the job of moving the motion pleaded blissful ignorance as to what the proposals meant or what their implications were. The motion was suitably couched in these somewhat vague terms:

that this Council requests our Party on regaining office to immediately reinstate the statute of limitations in relation to taxation.

That seemed fairly innocuous, or at least sufficiently vague to be meaningless to most people. But it is far from meaningless. It arises in fact out of a decision given by the Queensland Supreme Court last year in which it ruled in a way that it had never been expected any Supreme Court would rule; that is, that a statute of limitations applied to action by the Taxation Commissioner to recover taxation liabilities. The fact that such a motion was moved is evidence that the Queensland Branch of the National Party-or the cheats and criminals for whom the Queensland National Party operates-are still smarting from that action of the Government last year. Not to have so acted, would have led to gains by an assortment of paper scheme tax avoiders, whose schemes had been disallowed by the Commissioner in the late 1970s, and allowed them to have pocketed some $900m or thereabouts in taxation liability, because the Queensland Supreme Court ruling that the statute of limitations applied to these people as action actually to recover the debt, as distinct from issuing an assessment, had not been taken within, I think, a five or seven-year period.

So, had that perverse decision of the Queensland Supreme Court been allowed to stand, the honest taxpayers of Australia would have been deprived of $900m of revenue which would have accrued instead to the people who devised and used shonky paper tax avoidance schemes in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. It is worth noting that when the Government introduced the legislation to overturn that decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland and to make these tax cheats pay the $900m which was due, that legislation was opposed by every member of the Liberal Party and every member of the National Party-the former, no doubt, acting under instructions from the latter. In other words, as Mr Howard says, the policies of the Liberal Party and the policies of the National Party are the same. The only thing that should be added is that the policies are dictated to the Liberal Party by the National Party.

The only other aspect of this question that I want to pursue is the call that I made to the Leader of the Opposition on 4 December last year to seek an assurance from all members of the parliamentary Liberal and National parties that none of them would have been a personal beneficiary of the attempt to reject the Taxation Administration Amendment (Recovery of Tax Debts) Act of 1986, had that attempt succeeded.