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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3980

Mr CARLTON(3.22) —Madam Speaker:

Whenever he has the alternative of the high road of principle or the low road of expediency, like an unerring missile he always chooses that low road of expediency.

These words were used by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on the steps of Parliament House this morning about the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), and this afternoon he said that the Leader of the Opposition could not match the record of the Treasurer, Mr Keating. We are proud that the Leader of the Opposition does not match the record of the Treasurer. We are proud that the Leader of the Opposition is able to fill in a travel allowance claim successfully and properly, and we are proud that for five years he was Treasurer of this country and did not fail to put in a tax return.

The manner in which this Government responds to responsible criticism is to heap abuse on those criticising. The Prime Minister used exactly the same tactic this afternoon that he and the Treasurer have used in every debate and every Question Time in this House. The words `miserable, pathetic Opposition' have been used now for 3 1/2 years, and the Government has hoped for a very long period that those words would continue to be repeated by the ladies and gentlemen of the media. For a time they were, but it is no longer possible to come into this House merely to heap abuse. It is no longer possible for the Prime Minister to come into this House and say against all the evidence, that the Opposition does not take the great economic issues to the Government.

The Hansard record proves that when the Prime Minister says the Opposition is not taking the Government on in economic matters, he is-I cannot use a certain word-committing an untruth. He is telling the people of Australia something which is untrue according to the Hansard record. Every debate is there. Every major issue on economic matters has been taken up by this Opposition with the Prime Minister and with the Treasurer. One of the reasons why the Treasurer is in real trouble with the Australian electorate is that he has treated all those serious debates with arrogance and contempt. This Treasurer would not even provide briefings from the Australian Taxation Office to the Opposition until we raised this matter in the Parliament. He has treated us and the Australian people with arrogance and contempt and he treats his own people with such arrogance and contempt that there are no more than six government members in the House to support him. The Government had difficulty in getting people in to listen to the Prime Minister. It was sending out special warnings and ringing people in their offices. They had to be brought into the chamber to support the empty speech of the Prime Minister.

The Leader of the Opposition had five years of the heavy responsibility of the office of Treasurer and he conducted himself with dignity, with propriety and with effectiveness. Despite all the nonsense and all the rubbish that those opposite talk about tax evasion and rorting and so on, the present Leader of the Opposition did more to stop the schemes, stop the tax nonsense, than any other Treasurer in Australia's history. That is the fact of the matter, and it is on the record and it is in the books. It does not matter what the Government says day after day to the contrary, the record is there; it cannot be denied.

The heart of this matter is what happens to a Treasurer versus what happens to an ordinary citizen. I asked my colleagues this morning what happens to ordinary citizens who do not lodge their tax returns. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) brought to my attention the case of a constituent of his who had the following experience: The constituent on 21 April 1986 received a summons from the Australian Taxation Office for lodgment of his 1984-85 income tax return for which he had gained an extension until 28 February 1986. So he got an extension until 28 February 1986 for the same return-for last year-that the Treasurer did not put in. On 21 April he got a summons. No final notice was issued to his home address. The next day this constituent sent a copy of his return to the Taxation Office.

Mr Jull —Did he get a phone call?

Mr CARLTON —No phone call was received. On 15 May-this is what happens to the ordinary citizen-the Magistrates Court fined him $200 plus costs and gave him seven days to make payment, otherwise 24 days in gaol. This taxpayer might have claimed that in fact he was doing the Tax Office a favour because it owed him money. He might have claimed that, but he did not. He was caught by the ordinary law. Indeed the Tax Office did owe him money. The taxpayer was entitled to a refund from the Tax Office of $1,381.66.

If the Prime Minister and the Treasurer seriously believe that they will get away, in Bankstown and Brunswick, with the rubbish they bring into this House, just let them go out there and repeat what the Prime Minister said in this House today. He claimed that we had misrepresented what he said. He said:

Madam Speaker, failure to lodge a tax return for an ordinary PAYE taxpayer is a fault. But it is not one of immense consequence. Madam Speaker, it is a fault exhibited by a large number of Australians every year. Although it cannot be commended, nor can it be condoned, it is not Madam Speaker a question on which any one of us would bring into question the honesty, the integrity or the bona fides of any of our fellow Australians.

There out the door, Madam Speaker, goes $8 billion in the cash economy. It makes a total nonsense of the statement made by the Treasurer when amending the Income Tax Assessment Act. On 11 September he made the following statement:

The Hawke Government is committed to stamping out tax evasion . . . Among the most common tax offences are failure to furnish information to the Tax Commissioner and failure to file a return.

We have been debating in this House for weeks the identity card, the police state that these people opposite are trying to bring in. We have had a report from the Standing Committee on Expenditure which says that the office that the Treasurer has been administering for 3 1/2 years is a shambles. He has made dozens and dozens of statements about the need for ordinary people to do the right thing. He has made these statements day after day. But today he gets blown out of the water by his own Prime Minister. Why did he get blown out of the water? It was because the Prime Minister does not have the guts to stand up for the principles of decency and ministerial responsibility.

The Prime Minister has two faces. Both of them are red today. He is the high man of principle, who stands up on public occasions and preaches like a preacher. Then he comes into this House ranting and raving, speaking absolute rubbish and trying to put cases which are not sustained by the facts. The Prime Minister, at the national Tax Summit, said:

It is not just the problem of a huge revenue loss.

He is talking about people who do not put in their tax returns. He continues:

The Paper shows how, as a direct and almost inevitable result of the operation of the present system, tax avoidance is becoming endemic and threatens to become entrenched almost as part of a way of life for a significant part of our great nation.

These are the words of the Prime Minister:

That is something even more serious than the loss of revenue involved, because it goes to a loss in our national character, a loss in the quality and standard of our national life.

If the quality and standard of our national life are held in the repository of the Treasurer opposite and the Prime Minister, they have gone for a burton. There is absolutely no way in which ordinary taxpayers and young people paying tax for the first time can have any sense of confidence in the words of the Prime Minister when they know that they have a Treasurer who not only has failed to put in two successive tax returns, but also cannot even put down the correct address of his principal place of residence on his travel allowance form.

I know that the Treasurer will object to my raising this matter again, but it really has to be raised again, because this new incident just brings up all those old questions. There was never a satisfactory explanation for the travel allowance question. The Government brazened it out. The Treasurer had a house in Sydney which was unoccupied and which could not be occupied because it was being renovated; he was living in Canberra with his family; he admitted it; everybody knew it. The rules say that one is able to claim travel allowance when one comes here to Canberra and leaves one's principal place of residence. One has to make a declaration to that effect. The Treasurer made a declaration to say that his principal place of residence was in Sydney when it was not, and he claimed in that one year $17,000 tax free for that particular allowance, and that was allowed by the Commissioner of Taxation.

This was never satisfactorily explained. We asked question after question. The Prime Minister came in here and said that black was white; the Treasurer came in and said that black was white. He brazened it out. The matter has not been satisfactorily answered, and our research evidence shows that most Australians really worried about that; most Australians lost confidence in the Treasurer after that. This matter shows us that people were right to lose confidence, because there is new evidence.

We have been told that the winners in this whole matter are the vast body of taxpayers, because the Treasurer is owed money by the Tax Commissioner. Nobody else in Australia is entitled to say that he or she is owed money by the taxman or that he or she owes money to the taxman until the return has been put in and the assessment received. Nobody else is entitled to have this special licence, and in this particular case we must ask some questions. Taxpayers failing to lodge 1985 returns would have been issued final notices on or about 20 November 1985. Was the Treasurer issued with a final notice about 20 November 1985? Apparently not. Presumably failing taxpayers then receive further notices. Where was the further notice? Presumably, failing taxpayers then are prosecuted in the courts, like the constituent of the honourable member for Dawson. That is what happens to them, probably regardless of whether lodgment has taken place by then anyway, as in the case of the constituent of the honourable member for Dawson. Taxpayers lodging late in 1985 or paying late for 1985 receive final notices demanding 1986 lodgment by 31 October 1986. In other words, the Tax Office is very tough on those people who have a bad record.

Mr Keating —Tell us whether yours is in.

Mr CARLTON —The Treasurer is implying that I have not complied with the tax law. I always have and I hope I always will. Let us nail that. How did the Treasurer obtain exemption from all these procedures? These are the procedures we have from the Tax Office. We know what procedures ordinary people have to go through and we know that the Treasurer did not have to comply with these procedures. At the heart of all this is the question of double standards and the question of decency. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Treasurer have displayed either. They ought to be censured, but they will not be censured mainly here; they will be censured from now until kingdom come out there in Brunswick and Bankstown, where the ordinary people have to comply with the law, and where the ordinary people will not put up with this humbug. They will sweep them out of office at the next election.