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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 237


Senator O'CHEE (6.14 p.m.) —The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1994 is quite interesting. When one gets the explanatory memorandum one sees that page 2 states that, amongst other things, the bill increases the rate of duty on aviation fuels. That is quite extraordinary, because this bill is marked on the first page on the bottom right corner with a `T'. I hazard a guess that most honourable senators would not understand what that `T' denotes. The letter `T' in the bottom right hand corner of the first page of the bill denotes that it is a bill dealing with taxation. That is a notation put there by the chief parliamentary counsel—the people who draft the bill—to denote that this bill deals with taxation. For the greater part, this bill does deal with taxation. But where this bill increases the rate of duty on aviation fuels it does more than deal with taxation; in fact, it imposes taxation, because it imposes an extra burden on those who have to pay the tax on aviation fuels. It is very clear. That is what is said here.

  Why is it that this bill is not properly denoted? A bill which increases the rate of taxation should be denoted with `T*', meaning not just that it deals with taxation but that it increases the tax burden, but that is not denoted on the face of this bill. This may seem like some sort of arcane debate, but there is a very real reason why I raise this matter. This is the second bill in just a couple of months where the government and the chief parliamentary counsel have got it wrong. They have got it wrong again. They do not even know whether the bill is a bill imposing taxation or a bill dealing with taxation.

  As a result of the last mess-up we had a reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, we had another reference to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to try to sort out this mess-up as to what is a bill which imposes taxation, what is a bill which deals with taxation and how these tax bills should be dealt with. But this government does not have a clue—if it had any idea it would not allow basic mistakes like this to be made.

  What disturbs me even more is where this bill was introduced. My colleague Senator Vanstone, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, will no doubt be interested in this tax conundrum that we have just discovered, because she, like me, will have to deal with it when the matter goes before the committee.

  I went across to the clerk assistant and I said, `This bill originated in the House, didn't it?' The clerk assistant, without thinking, said, `Yes'. Then he came over to me and said, `Look, I'm dreadfully sorry, I made a mistake.' The clerks rarely make mistakes, but he said, `I just assumed that it did because it increased taxation'. In fact, this bill is a Senate bill introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Sherry, who is currently occupying the position of minister at the table. I know Senator Sherry is an extraordinary individual, but whether he has the power to do things which no other minister in the Senate has the power to do is an interesting point. Section 53 of the constitution says:

Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate.

I do not know how this appalling mistake was made. I do not know who is responsible for it. It could not be Senator Sherry—he could not be responsible for this sort of mistake. It has to be somebody else, but I would like to know who. I would like to know who on the other side thinks that we can just disregard all the rules in this place, disregard what is said in the constitution, and throw it all out the door.

  Maybe it was just an honest and genuine mistake. Maybe that increase in tax on aviation fuel was a last minute addition. After the`T' had been put on the first page and everything had been put together, that was put in and the government had forgotten that it was introducing the bill in the Senate. Maybe that is what happened. Maybe it just forgot.

  Maybe the government thought that, provided it spent the money, it was not increasing tax. On page 3 of the explanatory memorandum it states:

The increase in the Customs duty of 0.264 cents per litre on aviation gasoline and aviation kerosene is balanced by an equivalent increase in the moneys appropriated to the Civil Aviation Authority. The financial impact is neutral.

The financial impact may be neutral. Maybe we are taxing the money here and spending it over there, but that does not mean that this is not a measure imposing the taxation. It is very clear that it is a measure imposing taxation. Just because the government spends the money it takes, it does not mean that it is not taking the money in the first place. It does not mean that the government has not stuffed up yet again on this bill.  As I close, I would like to invite Senator Sherry to give the chamber an explanation of how the government got it wrong again.


Senator Vanstone —You won't get that from him.


Senator O'CHEE —I will give him the benefit of the doubt—there are a lot of doubts about Senator Sherry—on this point. Quite clearly, the government is wrong. I am really in two minds. I wonder whether we should throw out the bill or throw out the government. Maybe Senator Sherry will have an amusing explanation but, unfortunately, those of us who have to sit on the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, because of the stuff-ups this government has made on these sorts of matters, are not so amused with this government's appalling mismanagement; nor are we amused that the government seems to treat it so lightly.