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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6525

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (1:52 PM) —I will speak very briefly on opposition amendments (2) and (3), dealing with the appointment of trustees. We believe that this is a retrograde step. The Bankruptcy Act previously contained almost exactly the same provision, which was removed in 1996 on the basis that the requirement for a declaration of association did not prove to be of practical utility and added to the cost of the insolvency administration.

The provisions proposed to be inserted by these amendments are unnecessary and overly prescriptive. The amendments are an attempt to legislate for an ethical issue and suggest that the majority of registered trustees cannot be trusted. The code of professional conduct issued by the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia already provides that practitioners must make declarations of the type proposed by the amendment. The amendments would also create an inconsistency within the Bankruptcy Act, as there are no disclosure requirements for trustees in bankruptcy proceedings.

In relation to the bankruptcy task force report that Senator Ludwig expressed some interest in, the government has explained that it will not make the report public at this time because it contains some information that may alert taxpayers to methods of misusing the Bankruptcy Act, the Family Law Act and the Income Tax Assessment Act in order to avoid payment of debts, especially tax debts. It is desirable that progress be made on addressing these devices before the report is made public. The opposition's repeated calls for the report to be made public prematurely are unwise and motivated only by a spirit of political mischief-making.

Senator Ludwig —How can you hide behind that?

Senator ABETZ —Senator Ludwig knows that this bankruptcy of barristers problem, unfortunately, was going on under the previous Labor government but came to light under our government. We have looked into it. We have a task force. If we were now to release the mechanisms for how to do it prior to fixing up all those problems, then we would be broadcasting to the world at large how to get around certain tax requirements and responsibilities. I know the Australian Labor Party do not really believe it, and that is why I suggested they were into political mischief-making. Senator Ludwig, the alternative is that you deliberately want us to broadcast to the world at large the mechanisms by which these barristers have done the wrong thing by their fellow Australians and thereby allowed others to take advantage of those quite unethical schemes. You have a choice: admit to a little bit of political mischief-making or say you deliberately want this to be broadcast at large. I do not think you are that irresponsible. I reckon you are pretty irresponsible, but not that irresponsible. That is why I gave you the kind alternative of political mischief-making.