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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6838

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today relating to superannuation and to her financial interests.

I want to acknowledge at the outset that Senator Coonan has come in and indicated that she has made an error in relation to her pecuniary interest return. That is as it should be. It is proper for the minister to identify that as soon as possible. Of course, it could also be noted that Senator Coonan signed both those returns, which gives me little confidence in the level of diligence she applies to these tasks. However, having done that, I think there are a range of other issues on which Senator Coonan needs to respond appropriately and quickly to the Senate. Senator Coonan needs to understand that she is the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer in this country. That is the second most senior position in the administration of the Treasury portfolio and the tax office— one rung down from Mr Costello. Despite this crucial job, the Assistant Treasurer, through her family company arrangements and her property portfolio, is unable to satisfy the Senate about the taxation arrangements she is involved in.

In the last sitting week the Senate has already exposed the minister's tardy resignation from family company Endispute, which no doubt led to ASIC charging a late lodgment penalty against the company secretary, her husband, Mr Rogers. I asked Senator Coonan about those arrangements on 13 and 14 November. Mr Rogers's company report, lodged with ASIC on 15 November, reveals she resigned as company director on 24 December 2001—a month after becoming Assistant Treasurer—but the public lodgment of this resignation with ASIC had to wait 11 months. At best, this is extreme sloppiness on the part of the Assistant Treasurer, who is supposed to be in charge of answering questions about ASIC here.

The Senate has exposed a property supposedly owned by a deregistered company, Karnick Trustees, and the Assistant Treasurer ought to be well aware that the property of a deregistered company is vested in ASIC through section 576 of the Corporations Act. This Rogers family company seems to have been lax in its corporate reporting responsibility for some years now, with legal ownership seeming to reside with ASIC, which is of course a Commonwealth agency within the Treasury portfolio—more sloppiness from the Assistant Treasurer. Does this sloppiness attract a tax advantage? That is the question that is being asked. Karnick, owning this million dollar property, retained CGT-free status. But if the property had been transferred to Mr Rogers's own name when the company was deregistered in 1993, capital gains tax liability would have begun accruing from that date. These questions were asked of Senator Coonan today, and the Senate is entitled to expect an answer. What we are worried about is whether the failure to transfer the ownership has led to nine years of potential capital gains tax liability. This is something the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer should be able to answer.

There are further serious questions over Senator Coonan's husband's Pittwater weekender that have been raised in the Sydney Morning Herald and the chamber today. As soon as the unimproved land value rose sharply in March 2001, Senator Coonan's family arrangements changed, with Mr Rogers declaring it his principal place of residence, thus possibly avoiding what the Sydney Morning Herald calculates as $11,800 worth of land tax and leaving a lucrative question mark against any capital gains tax accrued if the property is sold. The Sydney Morning Herald relates Mr Rogers saying he lived there to avoid the inconvenience of renovations at the couple's Woollahra house—fair enough—and Senator Coonan through her spokesman said that the renovations began in September or October 1999 and finished in April 2000. But the renovations finished 11 months before Mr Rogers varied his enrolment—again, a proper question. We are asking the questions: what on earth is going on here; what is this all about? We do not know whether this is a case of wrongful enrolment for tax avoidance purposes. Senator Coonan needs to say to the chamber what the situation is. Senator Coonan needs to come clean.