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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 960

Senator CHILDS —I refer the Minister representing the Treasurer to the fact that tax outstanding at 30 June 1984 was nearly $3,500m, some $500m higher than the figure a year ago. Is the Government satisfied that all necessary steps are being taken to remedy this situation?

Senator WALSH —I think the answer to the question has to be no. The Government has taken steps, principally by increasing significantly the staff available to the enforcement section of the Australian Taxation Office, to overcome the backlog of tax cases. I interpolate that that is in contrast to the inactions of the previous Government, which consistently ignored pleas from the Commissioner of Taxation to do that. But in the general sense, no, the Government could not be satisfied with the general tax collection situation. One reason for that, of course, is that the Opposition, 60 per cent of the Australian Democrats and Senator Harradine continue to reject legislation to recover tax which should have been paid long ago-legislation which would deter would-be tax avoiders or evaders from attempting to repeat their anti-social behaviour in the future. A variety of excuses have been trotted out, by Senator Harradine in particular for that action, particularly for switching his vote on an identical proposition.

Senator Harradine —I rise to a point of order, Mr President. My point of order is that the Minister is not answering the direct question posed to him by the honourable senator. The honourable senator's direct question was in respect of staff in the Taxation Office to enforce the current provisions of the legislation. If the Minister wants an argument about this other matter, I am perfectly happy to have it with him, here or outside, but at present he is not acting in accordance with Standing Orders.

The PRESIDENT —Order! A Minister is entitled to answer a question in any way he chooses, but in answering a question he is not entitled to debate the matter. There is no point of order, but I draw the latter part of my ruling to the Minister's attention.

Senator WALSH —Thank you, Mr President. On a point of fact, however, the question contained no reference to staff. Senator Harradine was wrong again. I said that he in particular had given a variety of excuses for switching his vote on an identical proposition; that is, the removal of section 3 (12) from the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Assessment Act which was passed in 1982. Those excuses were often mutually exclusive, and always specious. I direct the attention of Senator Childs and the Senate to the Hansard of 14 December 1983, pages 3772 and 3773, where Senator Harradine conceded that he had voted in the opposite way on an identical proposition. He said:

The reason I voted against it this time is simply that the omission of section 3 (12) has a retrospective effect in that taxpayers who would be entitled to relief under that sub-section and who have requested that it be applied by the Commissioner of Taxation will now have that right removed and face recoupment tax liability.

As Senator Harradine was told at the time, no taxpayer had applied for exemption under that provision because no relevant assessments had been issued. That is the reason he gave then, and it is quite different from the latest excuse, which he gave yesterday. They are quite inconsistent. I note in closing that Senator Harradine has resorted to a legal subterfuge, to an abuse of legal processes, to escape electoral justice, that is, by issuing a stop writ against me. I challenge him to bring it into court immediately.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The last part of the Minister's remarks is in breach of standing order 418 and I ask him to withdraw it.

Senator WALSH —I withdraw, Mr President.