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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1583

Senator ELSTOB(11.34) —I rise to support the Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2]. At the outset I must clear up one misunderstanding. When I interjected during Senator Puplick's speech I had no intention of being discourteous to any church-Catholic or Protestant. I was saying that the Liberal Party of Australia is the friend of the tax cheats. I make that quite clear. That clears up that misunderstanding.

The Australia Card is just another weapon to use against the tax cheats. The Opposition has been in power for 30 of the last 36 years. Do not misunderstand that. Australian laws are recognised throughout the world as being some of the fairest and greatest; but when we come down to taxation laws we cannot say the same. Australia is a lucky country to live in. It is a great country, but we cannot say that our taxation laws are great.

Opposition senators interjecting-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections from the Opposition benches.

Senator ELSTOB —I can handle them, Mr Deputy President; do not worry about it. We can always handle the friends of cheats. They are easy to handle. Why did the Opposition parties not rectify the injustices in our taxation system during their rule of 30 of the last 36 years? Senator Puplick asked why Dr Blewett has not brought in changes to this Bill. I will answer that.

Senator Puplick —`As soon as I can think of one'.

Senator ELSTOB —No, I do not have to think about it at all. When Mr Fraser was Prime Minister, he instituted an investigation into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union in Melbourne. He, and some other members of the Liberal Party, thought that the results of that investigation would embarrass the Australian Labor Party. But who did it embarrass? Who did it put out of government? When Mr Costigan really looked into the activities of the painters and dockers, he found that the friends of the painters and dockers were members of the Liberal Party.

Senator Puplick —Name one, go on.

Senator ELSTOB —It brought the honourable senator's government down.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Puplick, you are interjecting too much.

Senator ELSTOB —It is a known fact that some people, through the bottom of the harbour scheme as it was commonly known, were not paying their taxes. When Labor got into government we said: `Enough of this'. Knowing that the wage and salary earners of this country had been footing the bill for 30 of the last 36 years, we brought Bills into this Parliament to recover that money. People of great wealth take it upon themselves to opt to pay their tax or not. The whole history of taxation in this country is a thorough disgrace. I remind honourable senators that the first Bill we brought in, on 18 May 1933, was to recover the money that was shown up in the Costigan report on the Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union.

Senator Vanstone —You meant 1983, did you?

Senator ELSTOB —It was 1983. The Bill that was brought in on 18 May 1983 was to recover $570m. It was justified that the Government should try to recover that. What happened to that Bill? The friends of the cheats, the liars and everyone else, in association with the Australian Democrats, rejected that Bill. Once again the people who should have been paying their taxes escaped. We considered that we would reduce the amount of fraud, and this is why Dr Blewett did not alter the Australia Card legislation. We have done this before. To try to accommodate people and to be compromising, on 23 August 1983 we brought in another Bill to recover $270m, and once again it was rejected by the coalition and the Democrats. On 3 November 1983 we brought in another Bill to recover only $35m in respect of some minor taxation matters. Once again the Opposition rejected it and enabled the people who regard paying taxes as optional to get away with it. The Bill which we introduced on 23 August 1983, to recover $270m we reintroduced on 2 May 1984, but once again the Opposition rejected that Bill. Consequently the people who should have been paying tax have never paid it.

We have a long history of total inequality for the taxpayers of this country. How can honest business people operate when someone else, who is, say, manufacturing identical articles, is not paying any tax? The person who is honest has got to either go out of business or become evil and crooked like his competitor. That is what is happening in this country. The system is driving honest, decent people into operations that they have no wish to go into. They do not want to be thieves. The great majority of Australians want to be honest and decent. But our taxation laws and systems have encouraged all the wrong things for too long. Senator Puplick said a great deal about--

Senator Knowles —What did he talk about? Come on!

Senator ELSTOB —That is true. Senator Puplick spoke about civil liberties. He said nothing about the private databank. It is just pie in the sky for anyone who understands the financial system in this country to say that this Bill is going to interfere with privacy. They are just crocodile tears. Any bank in this country can get information on anyone who wants to buy land, a house, a second hand car or a new car, or anyone who wants to undertake any financial transaction and to borrow money. The banks can ask how much money a person owes, whether he owes money on a house, furniture or any other property, and within two minutes they can tell whether a person has accurately filled in a loan application form.

Senator Lewis —Do you believe that is right and proper?

Senator ELSTOB —I do not believe it is right, but let me go on. I think there should be some restraint on that.

Senator Lewis —Why would you give the Government open slather?

Senator ELSTOB —The honourable senator has had his say. It is simply commenting on what Senator Puplick and everyone on his side is saying. It is totally unfair to attack on this basis just the Australia Card. The Opposition has not said that this accumulation of knowledge by the banks, which has been going on for many years, is an intrusion into people's lives. There is no doubt that it is such. The banks do not ask whether the people want that intrusion. They do not ask: `Do you mind if I check on how much money you owe?', or anything else. I think that should be asked.

I agree that something should be done about fraud. Under the Australia Card Bill, public servants have to have written permission to inquire into anyone's private affairs. That is not happening today. I think that is important. It is not a perfect world, as we know.

Senator Lewis —We ought to be trying to make it perfect.

Senator ELSTOB —The Bill tries to make it perfect. It is a much improved system on what goes on illegally, in my opinion, today. It requires a public servant to record each request, together with the reason for wanting access to the Register. Information cannot be obtained until those requirements have been met. Professor Whalan, who is a noted civil libertarian, said in evidence to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card that perhaps one irony would be that if we have an Australia Card with all those protections our privacy may be better protected than it is now. That is very important. There should be some regulations, and I do not think people should be able to inquire into one's privacy on a whim. If people want to borrow money or enter into some financial transaction it is fair enough that they fill out forms, but at least they should be aware of being investigated. Any person should have records available to him so that he can see whether the information recorded on those records are accurate. He should have the right to add or delete information from those records if they are incorrect. That is where the whole system as it is falls down. I believe at the moment the system is illegal and unjust. If it were better controlled under the Australia Card we would have a better system.

Senator Lewis —So you would extend it to the finance companies, then, would you?

Senator ELSTOB —I do not say that. I am saying that it is already there, and I am saying that it is wrong that it is there. Under the Australia Card legislation when a person applies for a job he will have to show his Australia Card. That is reasonable, and there is a reason for that. About 50,000 to 60,000 people have visited Australia and overstayed. They take jobs away. At the moment in the vicinity of 50,000 to 60,000 people are working illegally in Australia. I believe it is only fair and just--

Senator Lewis —That they should starve.

Senator ELSTOB —That people should prove who they are. I am not saying that anybody should starve. The honourable senator cannot take me down that track. I believe in a just society. I want to know what types of people are let into this country. If a person comes here as a migrant he should be properly documented and properly investigated. I do not want all sorts of people coming into this country unless I know that they have been thoroughly vetted. It is absolutely dishonest for them to come out here and take our jobs. That is one reason for showing the Australia Card when applying for a job. The next reason is in relation to the banking system. There are so many illegal bank accounts today; money is shuffled around in all sorts of names.

Senator Lewis —The card won't stop it.

Senator ELSTOB —The card will help follow that money trail of all the criminals, the people who do not pay their taxes and the people who take so much away from their business and put it into false accounts. They park it in those accounts-it is common-and then they take it out and put it in the Totalizator Agency Board.

Senator Lewis —What you are saying is not true.

Senator ELSTOB —It is true. They also give it to bookmakers, and I understand that the going fee is about 10 per cent. These people bet on a horse and the bookmakers give them cheques. These are two ways of laundering money. They go to the TAB and get cheques from it, and they go to the bookmaker on a Tuesday or whenever it is that he pays out and get cheques from him. That is another way of laundering money, but they have to park it in accounts to do so. They do not leave it to flutter around. There are so many people with accounts in false names. In 30 of the last 36 years the Liberal Party's track record has been disgraceful. It is absolutely disgraceful. Our taxation system is unfair, and the Liberal Party has done nothing. Why has it not supported legislation to recover money from--

Senator Lewis —Because they are retrospective.

Senator ELSTOB —Does the honourable senator tell me that if a person has been dishonest and somebody has been paying more than his fair share that money should not be recovered? That argument is totally incorrect. Senator Puplick also had something to say about the Australian Federal Police. He said that it did not agree with the Australia Card proposal. During the Committee's hearings the Chairman asked a question of Chief Superintendent Brown, and I quote:

You also qualified that to say that the foot soldiers, the small-time people, are an essential part of the overall strategy and that the key to opening up some of those larger organisations may well be a universal identifier which enables us to track the money trail and the identity trail through to people who are much bigger in the scheme of things as far as criminal organisations are concerned. Is that a fair summary of what you were saying?

Chief Superintendent Brown of the Federal Police said:

Yes, it is very accurate . . .

Senator Puplick said that the Federal Police was not saying that. The quote that I have just read out is in the Hansard transcript of proceedings of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card on Friday, 28 February 1986, and it is at pages 2790 and 2791. Senator Puplick conveniently does not remember all those things.

Let us look at what is going on in the Department of Social Security. I believe that many people in our society are desperately poor. The worst case that I have heard of is that the unemployment benefit was paid 24 times to an individual. In other words, that individual had 24 names. The cost to revenue was something like half a million dollars. We do not know just how much cheating there is on our social welfare system. As I said, many people in our society are trapped in poverty. I for one would like to see us raise some money for these desperately poor people, but how can we when we have cheats who are taking more than their fair share? It is an impossibility. The card will be at least another weapon. I am not saying that it is the be-all and end-all. It is a big part of our battle against unfairness in our taxation and social welfare systems. It is another weapon against people coming into this country, overstaying their visitors' visas and taking jobs. These people are here illegally, and we do not want them. Some of them are part of the criminal element.

Most of the people in crime today are involved with drugs. That is one of the big crimes that pays. It is very profitable-marihuana, heroin and the rest. With the Australia Card system we will be able to follow a trail of money. If people make money in some illegal way they will want to spend it. They show it through property or something else. The Australia Card will stop people having a dozen bank accounts in different names and continually changing their addresses. Now it is an impossibility to stop them. All this came out when the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union was investigated. It shows the depth of crime that is undetected in Australia.

If we are to keep Australia as a reasonable and decent place for our children to live in the future, the Australia Card is one of the weapons that we can use to make it possible to make this country great. It is a great country and I am a very proud Australian. We are lucky people but, as I have said, our taxation system is not fair to all Australians. It is an utter disgrace that the Liberal Party and the Australian Democrats are opposing this Bill. We all know what the Australian Democrats want. They want a double dissolution. Senator Haines would probably stand the best chance of getting back into the Senate. In politics, one has to count. If one cannot count one should not be in politics. I have gone through the figures for the last five elections in South Australia, both Federal and State, and on any count Senator Haines cannot get back into the Senate in a single Senate election. If she cannot get back, not one Australian Democrat will get back. They want a double dissolution-and that is why they are opposing this card-so that they can get back into the Senate. Why then is the Liberal Party opposing this card?

Senator Lewis —Because it is wrong.

Senator ELSTOB —That is not true, and the honourable senator knows it. If those opposite want a fair and equitable society the legislation is not wrong. Unfortunately, members of the Liberal Party have had it good for too long. They have been in power for 30 of the last 36 years. They have forgotten how to work. They have had resources over those years. When they were in government they received a lot of extra resources. The Liberal Party today has forgotten how to work and that is its greatest downfall. It has forgotten how difficult things can be. Money was showered on those opposite. They asked for donations from many of the people who were getting the benefits of an unfair taxation system. Those people contributed to the Liberal Party and, although those opposite did not look too closely at those organisations, they knew what was going on. That is the reality. That is one of the reasons we want public funding and people to disclose money obtained. It makes politics a lot better. The Liberal Party has lost its way.

The Australian Labor Party, through hard work-we had to work for every dollar that we earned to get here-and with no resources, learned how to work. That is what those opposite are losing. They are all fighting each other. It is a disgrace. In a democratic society, those opposite are not fulfilling the job of an Opposition. They oppose schemes that are trying to make taxation fair. They are continually hanging on to old systems and ways and they want that unfairness. That is what they call democracy. It is not our way of democracy. There will be a fair system of taxation and we will keep bringing these Bills forward to make this country a fair place to live in. If we do not do this we cannot develop our industries.

The people who take their coats off to work know jolly well they are being ripped off. Year after year they are paying. Look at the fringe benefits tax and the amount of money people were paid in the form of a motor car or other perks. Their wives had cards to go to certain shops to buy dresses; there were overseas trips; their children's schooling was paid for. Those opposite put up with all those things. But the wage and salary earners had to pay extra for that. Those conditions will no longer prevail. Those opposite say that if they win the next election-heaven forbid-they will reverse all those decisions. But the people of this country have woken up. They will not pay forever. They cannot be fooled all the time. They are much better educated today. They understand that with a fairer system this country will develop better. The spending power of ordinary people will improve conditions in this country.

It is true that the Opposition and the Democrats will combine to defeat this Bill, but in the long term it will do them no good. The Labor Party stands for fairness. We will keep bringing these Bills forward to make the system fair. Sooner or later the Australian people will understand that it is of no use voting for Australian Democrats or Liberals who will perpetuate an unfair system. The majority of people in this country will be Labor people and will vote for the Party that will provide honesty and fairness in society. Once again we will be proud to say that this is a great country. It is a great and fair country but our taxation system is the worst in the world. It is totally unfair and should be changed. I have pleasure in supporting the Australia Card legislation.