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Wednesday, 20 May 1936

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia [12.41].) (In this chamber, and elsewhere, I have so often complained of the difficulty of interpreting our taxation laws, that it is with particular pleasure that I welcome the steps which have been taken to overcome the worst of those difficulties. Whatever may be said of the details of this measure, and however we may disagree with some of the Government's proposals, the introduction of this bill is an event on which not only the community at large, but also those who have played a leading part in bringing about this most desirable consolidation of our income-tax laws, are to be congratulated. I am not clear whether the initial step which has led to this consolidation was taken by the present TreasurerMr. Casey) or by a former Minister, Sena.tor Massy-greene.

Senator A.J. MoLaohlan. - I think that Senator Massy-Greene was the person originally responsible, but the present Treasurer has been just as enthusiastic.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I congratulate the Treasurer and the departmental officials, as well as the members of the Royal Commission on Taxation, whose exhaustive report forms the nucleus of this bill. I also include in my congratulations those private individuals whose special knowledge of taxation was made available to those engaged in the preparation of this measure. In the nature of things, the extremely intricate and detailed work which they performed, they cannot expect, and will never receive, special thanks or recognition. The work has been completed with extraordinary rapidity, having regard to the long period occupied by an English commission on a similar undertaking. That body has been sitting for nine years, and has not yet completed its labours. I do not suppose that I arn regarded as one given to offering compliments too freely, but I think that all those who contributed to the consummation of the desires of so many taxpayers, are alike to be congratulated.

Sitting suspended from to 2.15 p.m.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - The first point I want to emphasize is that the bill represents in fact a consolidation, and although it contains a certain number of variations, it does not open up anew every section of our income taxation. The bill, in the main, follows the lines of previous acts. I think that the subdivision of the bill into many more clauses than were contained in earlier bills of this sort is an improvement, and reference is thereby made much easier. On this point I made an interjection yesterday regarding the memorandum which was prepared for the guidance of honorable senators, showing opposite the various clauses in this bill the relevant sections of the existing act. I can appreciate the difficulty of having this explanatory memorandum reprinted following the passage of the bill through the House of Representatives, where certain amendments were made; but I suggest to the Government that it might be worth while to reprint it with all the amendments as finally passed by the Parliament. If this be done it will be of great assistance, not only to taxation experts, but also to the ordinary man in the street. Legal practitioners and taxation experts generally are familiar with the sections of the present act, and if my suggestion were given effect to, they would he able to pee at, a glance which are the corresponding provisions of the new measure. Uniformity of principle has been achieved in the taxation measures to be passed by the various States, though, of course, not in respect of details which depend to some extent on the financial needs of present and future State Governments. I do not want to raise bogeys, but there is a doubt in my mind as to how far it will be possible to get the various governments, Commonwealth and State, to stand by the uniformity which at last has been achieved. I think it will be rather deplorable if, a few years hence, every government in Australia passes amendments altering principles in their legislation; that will mean that we shall again have something like seven different acts in force instead of, substantially, one.

The bill as it stands is more explicit and simpler than the existing law. We, who have so often asked for all the simplicity possible .in taxation measures, welcome its introduction. Indeed, I would go even further and say that the bill achieves an objective which might with advantage be extended to other forms of legislation, such as, for instance, the tariff. During the discussion of the tariff schedule last night, I had occasion to point out that certain provisions were more complicated and difficult for the man in the street to understand than are those contained in the schedule which preceded it. It seems to me unfortunate and not altogether logical that at a time when we are doing our best to simplify taxation measures, the tariff schedule is moving in the opposite direction of obscurity and difficulty of comprehension. A great deal of the tariff is almost unintelligible to the men most concerned with it, and it is with them we are most concerned, as we are concerned in this bill with those who pay income tax. This bill was considerably improved in detail during its passage through the House of Representatives, though I would not suggest that there is no room for further amendment of it. Indeed, I have several amendments which I propose to move in committee. At this stage I shall mention only one, which relates to the rather vexed matter of appeal by the taxpayer against assessments. As the bill now stands the taxpayer is required in the first instance to lodge notice of objection to the assessment. I do not altogether agree with Senator Johnston that this bill represents a tightening up of the provisions against the taxpayer; I do not think that is a fair statement to make when it is considered that this bill has been before a great number of experts, not only governmental, but also private practitioners who have looked at it from the taxpayer's point of view. I do not wish to impute that the Government is trying to tighten up this bill unduly and take advantage of the opportunity to slip in clauses which might be detrimental to the taxpayers. As a distinguished friend of mine, who certainly had a knowledge of taxation matters from both sides, used to say, " In matters of taxation the Commissioner and the taxpayer are at arm's length."

Senator Payne - At daggers drawn !

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