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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) (1:11 AM) .- I wish to reply briefly to the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), giving the answer of the Commissioner of Taxation, Sir Patrick McGovern, to the protests that I voiced on the 21st October against the line of questioning followed by taxation investigators in Tasmania. On that occasion I cited examples of the questions that had been asked of certain farmers who had subsequently brought the matter to my notice. I appreciate the fact that the Commissioner's reply to my allegations has been made available to-night before the session ends. But this is not the last that the Parliament will hear about the type of questioning that is being adopted by taxation officials, notwithstanding the lengthy statement made to-night by the Treasurer. I would like to make two or three comments about it. First, the reply has completely missed the target. It does not answer the specific allegations I made. There are five districts involved. I will not name them because that would give the taxation authorities in Tasmania an opportunity to track down these men who came to me. This matter has nothing to do with individuals in Launceston or Hobart. The districts concerned are farming districts, but the taxation officers interviewed solicitors in Hobart who would not know a bee from a bull's foot about the matters that I raised in this Parliament. The people who came to me do not have tax agents in Hobart. They are people who have battled on their own. I feel, therefore, that the allegations I made have not been answered.

The reactions of the people who were interviewed in Hobart were interesting. Some of them adopted an attitude of righteous indignation that I should dare to make a statement in this Parliament on what I considered a wrong method of questioning. These people would have no idea of the specific cases that I raised in the Parliament, so how could they answer the taxation officers?

Mr Mackinnon - This is all pretty cheap!

Mr DUTHIE - It is not cheap at all. It is all very well for you. You do not have taxation investigators tracking you down as they have been tracking down these people in my State, and hounding them like a pack of wolves. I will come back to this Parliament in February and tell the House again some of the things that are still going on, and will continue to go on unless the Taxation Branch takes heed of the matters that I raise, and which I feel constitute infringements of the rights of individuals.

Taxation officers have no right to take papers or other records from a private home without the consent of the owner, whether he be a farmer, a businessman or any other kind of taxpayer. Yet they do so, without such consent. They have no right to go into a home and go through all the drawers asking, "Where did you get this? and What did you. pay for. it?" unless they have the consent of the owner. Yet they do so. These are the matters that I raised and which have not been answered in the reply given by Sir Patrick McGovern. This gentleman does not like criticism, but I suggest that this Parliament is above every taxation officer in the country. The Parliament has a sovereign right over Sir Patrick McGovern. He is our servant. We are not his servants. This Parliament is supreme in Australia over every one of its officers and departments. I have a perfect right, as have my colleagues and members on the Government side, to bring to the notice of the Parliament any sign of an overbearing attitude on the part of officers of any department in their dealings with Australian citizens.

I am not supporting or defending taxation evasion in any way. There are many men who try to trick the department by making faulty or inadequate, returns. All I am trying to do is to make sure that when these people are approached they are approached as human beings and not as criminals. Unfortunately, it is like Ceasar appealing to Caesar, and you will never get any results in that way.

I wish to apologize for one error. The gentleman at Lake Tiberias who was referred to in the reply of the Treasurer tonight, is an oldish man. This inquiry had been going on for nine months and he said in his letter to me that the charge against him was an apparent shortage of £14,300. I queried this figure with several of my colleagues because of the way it was written. There appeared to be- a figure 1 before the. figure 4, and my colleagues agreed that the figure looked like £14,300. I am sure- that the. Treasurer would have agreed with this interpretation. However, the- right honorable gentleman's statement to-night gave the figure as £4,300, and I am glad that the point has been cleared up. I apologize for having made the mistake-.

Three or four farmers have been to me recently with similar complaints, about what they regarded as bullying tactics and inquisitiveness far beyond what would be expected of taxation officers in their efforts to get information. Fancy farmers having to think back five years and remember every little item of expenditure, even down to toilet paper! Fancy having to remember what their wives spent five years ago on clothing, hats and shoes. Fancy being asked, " What did you pay for your children's Christmas presents? What did you pay for your wife's present on Mother's Day? Where did you get that £6 to start your child's bank account? "

Mr Timson - We have heard all this before.

Mr DUTHIE - Well, you can hear it again, and get some idea of what is going on. I only hope that these investigators will not get on to you, because you will have to go through the same nasty experience that these people have had to put up with. I hope that Sir Patrick McGovern will read the speech that I am making so that he will understand my criticism of the methods of his officers.

I wrote to the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation on 27th October explaining that I cast no reflection on him whatsoever, but that I felt that some of the questions being asked by his officers were far beyond what could reasonably be expected. I explained exactly why I had raised the matter in the House, I thanked him for his courtesy during the years he has been in his position and I have been the member for Wilmot. But he did not have the courtesy to reply to my letter. He, too, was probably narked. If that is the attitude these men adopt when we- raise these questions, without casting any reflection on them, what hope have we of getting justice?

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