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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - As I moved the amendment which the House of Representatives has declined to accept, it is perhaps proper that I should speak on the subject. We cannot congratulate the House of Representatives upon the generous manner in which it has treated the amendments made in this chamber, because I think that I am correct in saying that of the twenty or so amendments sent to the House of Representatives eighteen were ministerial amendments. If this amendment be not insisted upon the contribution of private senators to the improvement of the bill will be reduced to the insertion of " shall " instead of " may ". The amendment which the House of Representatives declines to accept is important. The main reason given by the other chamber for disallowing the amendment appears to be No. 4, which gives the royal commission's recommendation which the PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) quoted when the bill was previously before this committee. Although the members of the commission possess admirable qualities they have not the final word in framing this bill, and it should not be contended that the commission is right in every instance. I suggest, with the greatest deference, that that may have tended to a study of this subject from the legal viewpoint, rather than from the viewpoint of the taxpayer. I shall show that there is a strong feeling in favour of this amendment, and of other amendments which I moved. Reason No. 5 appears to be far fetched in the extreme. Can any one imagine a person, other than one with a. pugnacious temperament, withholding the principal grounds of objection until he appeared before the court. , or the board? Surely it is not suggested that an ordinary taxpayer is likely to hide his main grounds of objection until he gets into the court. Even if the amendment were accepted the court or the board would have to decide whether the objection was admissible.

Senator Millen - It might be disallowed.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Of course it might. At the outset the taxpayer would tend to state the grounds on which he challenged the assessment. Season No. 6 reads -

The present state of the law has been the practice since the inception of the act. Tho proposed amendment would represent a departure from an established practice which has worked; satisfactorily for twenty years.

As I can perhaps be accused of being as conservative as most honorable senators,, it may be said that I should not have any objection to a provision which has worked satisfactorily for twenty years.' At the same time, however, there is a suggestion that the Board of Review which has been in existence for about ten years, may perhaps give way to a new system.

Sitting suspended from 12.J/S to 2.15 p.m.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - We are told that the existing provision has worked satisfactorily. One may fairly ask : " In whose opinion has it worked satisfactorily?" It may work satisfactorily from the viewpoint of the Government, or the Taxation Commissioner, or a good many taxpayers; but that there is a considerable number of taxpayers, in whose opinion it has not worked satisfactorily, is undeniable. Every time I have spoken on this bill, each subject which I discussed was selected from a large number of points which had been put up to me by way of criticism of the measure, and with the object of indicating points which, it was thought, should be amended. I spoke upon this measure after considering those suggestions; I discarded many of them which I did not consider to be valid. In other words, from those many suggestions I selected some which were, in my opinion, arguable. This particular point was submitted to me by the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. I have a great respect for chambers of commerce, whether they are in South Australia or any other State.

Senator Collings - They are mostly composed of tax-dodgers.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - That statement is grotesque, and grossly unfair. I have never made an accusation against anybody in this chamber that would justify the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) in making that statement about a reputable and representative body of men. I do not know the personnel of the executive of the Sydney chamber; but I venture to say that they include some of the most reputable citizens of Sydney, otherwise they would not have been elected to the executive. The chamber gave reasons why this provision should, be altered. The clause, I admit, has probably been studied from a strictly commercial viewpoint; but, on the other hand, portions of the act which are most open to criticism by taxpayers are likely to have been studied. The president of the Chamber of Commerce addressed a letter to the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) on the 14th April last. I presume that its contents are not demonstrably false, or this fact would have been pointed out. That letter stated -

In further explanation of our views, we direct your attention to the following provisions of the Commonwealth bill with regard to objections and appeals: -

3.   Once the 60 days have expired, the taxpayers cannot lodge an objection or add to or alter an objection already lodged. No matter what the circumstances may be, the period of GO days cannot be extended.

4.   No matter how incorrect an assessment may bc, a court cannot order the Commissioner to correct it unless the taxpayer has token the proper grounds of objection. Neither has the court any power to allow an objection to be altered.

7.   Irrespective of how grossly incorrect an interpretation of the law may have been adopted in the making of any assessment, no alteration can be made unless the taxpayer has lodged an objection and stated the (proper ground.

It appears to our special committee that these provisions are less liberal and are more rigid than those which are contained in the present law. In the first place, they take away the present right of appeal against penalties, while the. provisions mentioned in items .(6) and (7) are innovations. No. (6) is quite extraordinary, its effect being to authorize the Commissioner to decide objections without obtaining necessary information, and also to unduly withhold appeals from the court without the taxpayer's consent.

The foregoing, in the opinion of our committee, fully support the conclusion expressed in our previous letter, that under the new bill the taxpayer will be worse off than at present with regard to right of objection and appeal.

For your convenience, we attach a statement of the principles which, in the opinion of this chamber, should be observed in connexion with abjections and appeals.

Thissuggestion made by tie special committee is appended, and in relation to the provision now before us the committee stated -

It is suggested by this chamber that, in a simplified taxing act, appeals should be provided for as follows: -

A taxpayer shall be limited on the hearing of his appeal to the grounds stated or disclosed by him and to such other grounds as the court hearing the appeal gives leave te add.

Such court shall give leave to add such grounds to any appeal as shall enable the taxpayers appellant to have determined any question or objection which he desired t<> bc determined.

The amendment I proposed is not so wide as that; nor have I accepted all of the suggestions of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. Exercising my personal judgment, I have gone through this and other letters for the purpose of seeing what, in my opinion, is a defensible line to follow. I have selected this point, because it impressed me as being essentially fair. Some of the criticisms which T received from other people I have discarded, because they appeared to me to be biased. This suggestion seemed to rae to be sound;, I referred it to this committee, which also agreed that it was sound. I emphasize that, under my very small amendment, it is still left to the board or court to decide whether further grounds for objection should be allowed. It is quite within the range of the judge - or the board - to decide whether or not the taxpayer shall be permitted to add any additional ground. Surely that is a safeguard against any unreasonable use of this provision. In regard to the Minister's statement, that the amendment would be more acceptable if the objection were "o be dealt with by a single tribunal, I admit that an experienced judge would probably be better qualified to state what to disallow than would an ordinary board of review.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is what the Chamber of Commerce suggested. It said nothing about a board.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I admit that there is something in that contention, but surely the board is a reasonable body, lt is not likely to admit outrageous things; on the contrary, it is likely to admit only the things which it considers to be essentially just. I ask honorable senators to consider this final point: The tax gatherer has an unhappy lot in many ways and he is not likely to be a popular person ; but we find it necessary to have taxes, and they must be gathered. Generally speaking, they are equitably gathered, although there may be exceptions to that, just as there are exceptions amongst the taxpayers. In my opinion, it is not sound to make the gathering of taxes an unnecessarily criticized occupation. It is desirable, politically and ethically, that the man who has to pay the tax should not go away with a sense of injustice. He should be given, if anything, a little more concession than is granted to the other side. Under my proposal he will not be given any more concession than that which is granted to the other side, because the Commissioner, if he should choose to do so, can delay the hearing of the objection for a very long while. This is only a very small endeavour to ensure that the taxpayer shall be given a fair opportunity to put his case when he appeals against an assessment. He is not likely to appeal unless he has adequate grounds for doing so. The reasons stated by the House of Representatives for refusing to make the requested amendment do not convince me and I propose to repeat my previous vote on the matter.

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