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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1585

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(9.23) —At last the Opposition has had the guts to move a substantive motion. Let me just remind the House and the people of Australia of the way in which this whole matter arose. The Government took a decision to make available to the people of Australia declarations of pecuniary interests. As a result, one of the members of the Opposition was able, because of my declaration, to make certain inquiries about a company with which I was associated. There was no suggestion-

Mr Newman —You are the one who is on trial.

Mr DAWKINS —One of the reasons why we think it is a good idea for everybody to declare their interests is so we can know a little bit about the pecuniary interests of the Opposition as the alternative government. Why can we not have a look at the pecuniary interests of honourable members opposite and whether there might be some forthcoming conflict of interest?

In any event, those anonymous accusations were made. They were not accusations of the kind which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) is now making- accusations of double standards-which seems to be the sole and only claim and charge he is prepared to level at me tonight. Those were not the charges which were made initially. The charge was made that a Minister had been involved in tax evasion on a massive scale. I volunteered the fact that the circumstances to which the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) was referring bore some vague resemblance to a company with which I had been associated.

When the Opposition was invited to move a substantive motion in relation to that matter, it squibbed it. But notwithstanding that, the honourable member for O'Connor was given unlimited time, more than an hour, to address himself to the charges that he wanted to make against me. At no stage during that process was any suggestion made of these matters which have now arisen. What has now arisen- and again it has been a matter of being able to extract it from the Opposition piece by piece-is some charge that I am guilty of the exercise of some double standard. Let us just examine that for a moment.

The evidence which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition uses is that-in his words, I think-I traduced the reputation of Mr Reid in a speech last year. I remind the House and the people of Australia that in October last year, when that speech was made and when that debate was conducted in this House, the whole question of tax avoidance had become a total political scandal because of the condonation of tax evasion and avoidance by the then Government. That Government was finally brought into this place and forced to move legislation. One of the reasons why it was forced to do that was that people such as myself, and others, and particularly the present Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations ( Mr Willis) had conducted an unrelenting campaign against tax dodgers. As a result of that and as a result of disclosures from the McCabe-Lafranchi report and various others, the Government was forced to act. If honourable members wish to be reminded of some of the hyperbole that was being used at that time, I shall quote this:

But are we governed only by law? Is there no question of ethics? Is there not a question of honour in the way in which people do their business? If every wrongful act had to be proscribed by law, then we are really going to be circumscribed by law and you will need a couple of solicitors behind you at every step, and I do not particularly want to live in a society like that.

It goes on:

Those in the community who cheat on their obligations to others to attempt dishonestly to evade the law, whether by evading taxation, not only bring dishonour to themselves but also impose real strains on the Public Service. In a real sense the recipients of those funds have in their hands stolen funds, whether you want to say stolen from the Commonwealth or stolen from other taxpayers.

They were not my words. That bit of prose came straight out of the mouth of the then Prime Minister when he was cornered and hooked on an issue on which he could not escape.

But in any event, during that debate I indicated certain things about companies with which Mr Reid was associated. I did not, however, make the charges that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition now says that I did make against Mr Reid. But in any event, I regret that Mr Reid has been brought into this matter again in the way in which he has.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr DAWKINS —Wait a minute. I say that for this very good reason. I said in answer to the question of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) today: 'As to any matters that might exist between me and Mr Reid, they are matters for Mr Reid and me to deal with, and indeed they have been addressed'. I thought that they were matters for Mr Reid and myself, and I was not going to bring him into this matter. I can indicate that when I met Mr Reid some time ago in Sydney, when I congratulated him on the report that he had presented to the House, I said that I thought that he had been very unfairly treated during the debate last year.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr DAWKINS —Honourable members opposite cannot have it both ways.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was heard in relative silence, with, of course, some support. I suggest that the Minister for Finance should be given an equal opportunity.

Mr DAWKINS —Members of the Opposition cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that I should apologise to Mr Reid and then when I indicate that I have expressed my regrets to Mr Reid say that I am some sort of hypocrite. I have indicated that to Mr Reid. I am perfectly happy to repeat it tonight, as I have done already. As to my charge that he was not, on that evidence, a fit person to lead this inquiry into the administration, I have already indicated that I think that was certainly-on the basis of the report that he has provided-an excellent report. I certainly withdraw the suggestion that I made at that time.

Mr Peacock —Why didn't you do it this afternoon?

Mr DAWKINS —I indicated this afternoon that I had already addressed that matter to Mr Reid himself. Let us just go back to this question of double standards, and get into context what it was I was saying last year. What I was saying last year-I have repeated it this year-is that if there were directors involved in companies that were sold to promoters and went to the bottom of the harbour, I did not believe there was a notion of innocence in relation to the activities of those directors. I still believe that to be the case. If a director was involved in selling shares in a company in a way which overvalued those shares and in a way which represented the unpaid tax, I think those directors knew exactly what they were doing. Presumably the now Opposition, the then Government, thought so too because it enacted to effect the collection of the tax.

As to other shareholders who may not have known about the transaction, I said it was not a question of innocence or guilt. What I said was that it was a question of benefit. What I said was that whether or not a shareholder knew of the transaction or was involved in the transaction, so long as that shareholder derived a benefit in respect of the tax unpaid, then I believed that that shareholder should be liable to pay the unpaid tax. So there is nothing inconsistent about what I have said or about what I revealed today. The point is that there are no double standards because I, unlike about half those honourable members on the other side of the House, did vote for the tax recoupment legislation and I, unlike any of the members of the Opposition, did vote this year to extend the application of that particular provision.

Let us not hear this humbug about where I stand on tax avoidance. What the Opposition is really concerned about is that the Australian Labor Party-I am proud to have been a part of this-did destroy the Liberal Party in Western Australia. The Liberal Party has still not purged its soul of the villainy with which it was associated last year. People right at the heart of the Liberal Party in Western Australia are up to their necks in tax dodging. I dare say the Liberal Party was a beneficiary of the funds that should have found their way into the Federal exchequer. So that is what the Opposition is worried about. Members of the Opposition would like to get me and they will try to smear me. They have tried before and they will try again, because they know and the people of Western Australia know that the Liberal Party in Western Australia is still rotten to the core on this issue. They have refused to face up to it, they will not face up to it and, as a consequence, they will continue to receive the rebuff from the electorate which they have received on the last three occasions on which electors have had an opportunity to exercise their vote.

So what this charge comes down to really is that members of the Liberal Party want to pursue a vendetta against me. They have devoted an awful lot of time to it in the past few days. I do not know what is worth anything if they are prepared to waste all this time on this idle pursuit. In any event, they are keen to get me and they would have loved to find a circumstance in which I was involved in a bottom of the harbour scheme. What have they been able to uncover? What I have been able to reveal is that on 10 December 1976 Treamog Pty Ltd was sold to Brian Maher and nearly $2m was paid to Metro Industries Ltd at some subsequent time. Something like two weeks after that transaction, on 1 January, shares which were held by the company of which I was a director were sold. The beautiful simplicity of all this is that the shares were sold on 1 January 1977, yet what the Commissioner of Taxation has decided to do is assess all those shareholders who held shares on the day before. So, as I said, we were bewitched by midnight as far as that particular matter was concerned. There is no suggestion that the company or I benefited in any way from the fraudulent activities of Denis Byrne Horgan. They are activities which have been revealed by the von Doussa report.

As I have indicated, I would be perfectly happy to approach the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to have that report released if more information on this matter is required. I simply say that as a result of the legislation which the then Treasurer introduced, there was a provision which allowed the Commissioner of Taxation to make a determination about whether shareholders on a particular date benefited in any way from the non-payment of tax. So if it comes to a question of liability-and liability was the central point in the question this morning of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition-that question remains unanswered. My confident expectation is that there will be no liability, but even if there is there are funds there to pay and the company will be perfectly happy to do so.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Howard's) be agreed to.