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Notice given 6 August 2001

3792  Senator Allison: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care—When will the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency be updating its website (The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project 1996-1999 and Maralinga Rehabilitation Project Gallery: Part 1 1998) with respect to the pits in which in situ vitrification was not used.

Senator Allison: To ask the Ministers listed below (Question Nos 3793-3811)—

(1) Does the department have a policy on purchasing ‘green energy’ or energy from renewable sources for its own operations.

(2) What, if any, are the constraints for agencies in purchasing ‘green energy’.

(3) What steps does the department take to promote the purchase of ‘green energy’ in its agencies.

(4) (a) How much ‘green energy’ was purchased, and by which agencies, for the 2000-01 financial year; and (b) how does this compare with the previous financial year.

3799 Minister representing the Minister for Defence

3812  Senator Murray: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation—

(1) Were any applications made to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) prior to 1 July 1998 for finance brokers in Western Australia to be exempted from the Corporations Law requirements with respect to prescribed interests; if so: (a) when was each application made; (b) by whom and on whose behalf was each application made; (c) when was the application determined; and (d) what was the outcome of each application and what were the reasons for the decision for each application.

(2) Did ASIC enforce the Corporations Law against finance brokers who were offering ‘Pooled Mortgage Schemes’ in contravention of the law in Western Australia.

(3) Is ASIC, in Western Australia, now taking steps to ensure that each prospectus issued in Western Australian Pooled Mortgage Schemes are in all respects accurate and reliable: if not, why not.

3814  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—

(1) Is the Minister aware of the exponential growth in the number of companies and joint ventures being established by Australian universities.

(2) What is the current total nationally.

(3) How many of these companies have applied for tax-exempt status.

(4) How many have been rejected.

(5) Is the Minister also aware of the concern expressed by a number of state Auditors-General concerning the transparency of the operations of some of these ventures and the fact that the selection of auditors is often not in accordance with generally accepted views on the accountability of public sector organisations.

(6) Has the Minister sought or received advice from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regarding the appropriateness of all such companies to qualify for tax-exempt status as either educational or charitable institutions.

(7) What monitoring of the activities and compliance of these companies is undertaken by the ATO.

(8) Has any review of the extension of this financial benefit to such private companies established by public universities been considered or conducted.

(9) What estimates have been made of the amount of tax revenue forgone by the Commonwealth as a result of the tax-exempt status of these companies.

3815  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—

(1) Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a document dated 10 November 2000, addressed to the Chairman of Melbourne Enterprises International Ltd (MEI), a wholly-owned entity of the University of Melbourne, from William Buck, business consultants.

(2) Has the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) considered the following issue raised by William Buck: ‘…it has been suggested that M[elbourne] U[niversity] P[rivate] L[td] may at some point allow for external investment. MUPL’s constitution has recently been amended to make this possible, but this was not adopted until after the ATO issued its ruling on its tax exempt status. Given that this is a material change in the constitution, we recommend that the new constitution and activities of MUPL are reviewed in the light of the information given to the ATO and that consideration be given to submitting a new ruling.’

(3) What period of time elapsed between the material change in the status of MUPL and the ATO being informed.

(4) For how long did MUPL enjoy tax-exempt status without the ATO being informed of material changes to the circumstances of the company.

(5) If the activities of a company enjoying tax-exempt status materially alter, on whom does the onus lie in ensuring continuing compliance with ATO conditions of approval: with the company or with the ATO.

(6) What penalties exist for a company with tax-exempt status failing to inform the ATO of a material change to its activities.

(7) If such a breach occurred, what effect would that have on revenue previously claimed as tax exempt.

(8) Buck makes reference to a subsidiary company, MUP Services Pty Ltd, pointing out that no tax returns had been lodged for this company, despite it being considered taxable. It was also pointed out that this company had about $2 million in carry forward tax losses. Given that these point to commercial activity on the part of MUP Services, has the ATO established why no tax returns have been lodged.

(9) Is this in accord with current tax law.

(10) The ATO has made a public ruling that it requires charitable or similar institutions to prohibit profit or capital distributions to members. Given that MUPL has amended its constitution to allow for precisely this: (a) what is its status with the ATO; and (b) has the ATO been informed of this or made a determination.

3816  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—

(1) Has the advice of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) been sought in relation to the status of Melbourne Enterprises International Ltd (MEI), a wholly owned entity of the University of Melbourne, in light of the advice of business consultants William Buck that: ‘The ATO opinion (giving tax exempt status) is expressed as being based on the information provided and conditional on the activities of MEI not being altered in any material particular. We understand that MEI is also engaged in other activities including the provision of international project management and consultancy services, and that this was not referred to in correspondence with the ATO.’

(2) Has the ATO been provided with such advice.

(3) For how long did the University of Melbourne withhold from the ATO material information on which a true judgement of MEI’s tax-exempt status could be considered.

(4) For how long has MEI benefited from a tax-exempt status that may be questionable if full disclosure had been made at the appropriate time.

(5) What is the extent and value of the tax benefits claimed by MEI since being granted tax-exempt status.

(6) Has MEI approached the ATO since November 2000 either providing additional information or seeking clarification of its status; if so, what has been the result.

3817  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—Is the Minister aware that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has failed to respond to questions on notice provided to the ATO on 7 June 2001 at the most recent estimates hearings. Would the Minister expedite answers to the following questions:

(1) Has a request been received for tax exempt status for a company known as Uniseed.

(2) What is the position of the ATO on the advice provided to MEI by William Buck, business consultants, regarding Uniseed, to the effect that: ‘There remains uncertainty concerning whether the ATO will accept Uniseed is exempt from income tax … Our concern is that whilst Uniseed has [educational] objects, its focus may be too commercial for it to qualify for a tax exemption. In addition the ATO has stated in a public ruling that it requires charitable or similar institutions to prohibit profit or capital distributions to members. Uniseed does not have such a prohibition in its constitution. The ATO requirement is not necessarily in accordance with the law and in our view it is arguable that where the underlying ownership is held by a non-profit entity, an organisation may still be charitable. Nevertheless it may be difficult to convince the ATO of this.’

(3) Has an application for tax exemption for Uniseed been received.

(4) Has Uniseed been granted such status; if so, on what grounds.

(5) If an application was rejected, what were the grounds for rejection.

(6) How does the ATO calculate the balance between charitable objectives and commercial orientation when considering an application for exemption.

(7) Can details be provided of such considerations in the case of Uniseed, if an application was received.

(8) The advice received by the University of Melbourne suggests that, in the ‘current climate’, the ATO may have tightened its position: (a) what is the ‘current climate’ referred to; and (b) in what ways is the ATO now less willing to provide tax exemption for these sorts of operations.

3818  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—Will the Minister provide answers to the following questions addressed to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at the estimates hearings of 6 June 2001 which currently remain unanswered:

(1) The department’s financial statistics for 1999 reveal that in addition to revenue from investments and benefactions totalling $387 million, that they received in excess of $850 million, or nearly 10 per cent of total revenue, from ‘Other Sources’. Does the ATO have an assessment of revenue received by universities listed under the HEFA Schedule from what are classed by the department as ‘Other Sources’.

(2) Does the ATO have a breakdown of the nature and sources of this revenue.

(3) Does the ATO know how much of this revenue accrues from university-controlled commercial operations.

(4) Has the ATO estimated the total revenue foregone as a result of the tax-exempt status of these companies.

(5) What are the comparable figures for 1998, 1999 and 2000.

(6) Can a copy be provided of the details of the latest compliance evaluation for each of the wholly- or partially-owned commercial entities of each of the HEFA-listed universities.

3819  Senator Carr: To ask the Minister representing the Treasurer—

(1) In the light of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) ruling requiring charitable or similar institutions to prohibit profit or capital distribution to members if they wish to retain tax-exempt status or to qualify as a recipient of tax deductible gifts, how is it possible for a private university such as Melbourne University (MU) Private that is a company whose constitution allows for private investment and the distribution of dividends to meet such criteria.

(2) Have any such donations been made to MU Private.

(3) If an organisation enjoying such eligibility materially alters it constitution or other guiding principles is it incumbent on the organisation to inform the ATO.

(4) Would the ATO review the status of the organisation.

(5) Has MU Private informed the ATO of any such changes or alterations to its operations.

(6) Has the ATO reviewed the eligibility of MU Private as a consequence.