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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3285

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Trade)(10.30) —On behalf of the Government and the Treasurer (Mr Keating), I indicate that the Government will not accept this amendment. Anyone listening to the debate would think that we have not been engaged over the last few years in trying to stem the great tide of tax avoidance which has imperilled the very taxation system of this country. What we are attempting to do is further clarify the powers of the Commissioner of Taxation. It is important not just to see this as an extension of the Tax Commissioner's powers; it is a matter of trying to clarify those powers for the benefit not only of the Tax Commissioner but also of the taxpayer. The case has been put to the Tax Commissioner by those who have made submissions to him that it is important for this area of the law to be clarified so that the taxpayer, in providing information, is not put in the difficult situation of exposing himself to possible attacks in relation to confidentiality issues.

Those opposite in this debate have revealed a very great ignorance not only of the existing law but also of this legislation, because what is intended here is simply to intrude into this law provisions which already exist in other laws. This is not a great new advance. Anyone listening to some of the contributors in this debate would think that this provision was about to give the Tax Commissioner the power to enter into premises almost at gunpoint and require the absolute and unqualified assistance of the occupiers of those premises. Of course, the Tax Commissioner exercises the powers under section 263 only in very unusual circumstances. Listening to the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb), one would be inclined to think that he was not even aware of what the existing provisions under section 263 are. He was attempting to deny that the Tax Commissioner should have the ability to exercise the powers which he already has under section 263.

The amendment moved by those opposite is not about removing the provisions which already exist in the law but rather is to prevent a clarification of the powers as intended in the clause before us. Those opposite are erecting a straw man because it is not the intention that this law be used in the kind of cavalier way that they would have us believe. It is a perfectly reasonable provision which, as a result of the proper exercise of the Tax Commissioner's powers, would require people to assist investigators in the provision of information which the Tax Commissioner quite clearly requires in the exercise of his powers in relation to the tax laws of this country. Those opposite are attempting to say that there will be a wholesale extension of powers and a quite unprincipled use of those powers by tax officers. This is simply not the case. It is a question of clarifying procedures which have already been contested in the courts and which therefore need to be clarified unless we are to have a continual series of episodes where these powers are ill-defined and therefore capable of being challenged by taxpayers, at their very great cost. This is a perfectly reasonable provision. The point is that the investigators cannot unreasonably require the assistance of taxpayers. That is why the reference to `reasonable' is in the legislation.

Mr Cobb —Define it for us.

Mr DAWKINS —The honourable member knows what `reasonable' is. Everybody knows what `reasonable' is. No tax officer can unreasonably require this kind of assistance, because that is what the provision says.

Mr Carlton —Dr Goebbels thought he was reasonable. That is nonsense.

Mr DAWKINS —I might, not unfairly, point out to the honourable member for Mackellar that, if he spent a little more time producing a tax policy rather than indulging in this piffling debate about what is reasonable and what is unreasonable, I am sure the whole of Australia would be greatly relieved.

Mr Carlton —I have done more work on tax policy than you did before the last election.

Mr DAWKINS —If he has done so much work, would it not be a great idea to expose the results of his great effort? What he does here is delay the House with this irrelevant, piffling argument about what is reasonable or unreasonable.

Mr Carlton —At least honourable members on this side argued reasonably.

Mr DAWKINS —What we are talking about is a quite deliberate exercise on the part of the Government to overcome the problems of tax avoidance which, of course, ran away in the period of the Fraser-Howard Government.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The Minister will keep to the matter before the chamber, and the honourable member for Mackellar will cease interjecting.

Mr DAWKINS —Before the last election we had a massive explosion of tax avoidance, something with which the former Government was totally incapable of dealing. When this Government has consistently and deliberately tried to eliminate tax avoidance from the system, we have this absurd argument being introduced by the Opposition, as on this occasion, about what is reasonable or unreasonable. As I said, if the honourable member for Mackellar would simply devote a minor part of his time to releasing the tax policy over which he has apparently been labouring for weeks and months--

Mr Carlton —On a point of order, Mr Chairman: The Opposition has put a perfectly reasonable argument in this matter. The Minister's comments are totally irrelevant. Other speakers from the Government side have been perfectly reasonable in their arguments, and this is most unseemly and quite out of order.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The Committee has before it the whole of the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, which is about tax. The Minister is talking about tax, and he is in order and about to wind up.

Mr DAWKINS —The point I simply wish to make is that there has been an enormous exaggeration of fantasy on the part of the Opposition in relation to this provision.

Mr McGauran —Talk to a few accountants, tax agents and taxpayers!

Mr DAWKINS —I am sure the honourable member for Gippsland spends a great deal of his time talking to tax agents and accountants. It is not something on which I spend a great deal of time. Nevertheless, if that is the way the honourable member wants to spend his time, that is up to him. The Government's obligation is to ensure that we have enforceable laws and that the Commissioner of Taxation has available to him the appropriate powers to ensure that the tax laws are complied with. That is what this provision is all about, and that is why the Government rejects the amendment from the Opposition.

Amendment negatived.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.