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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8111

Senator MURRAY (5:39 AM) —Mr Chairman, I would like, if I may, to seek some guidance from the committee. I am one of those who do not find tax matters boring, but I am really bored now and I am tired.

The CHAIRMAN —I advise you, Senator Murray, not to press that point too much because you might find a fair degree of agreement around the chamber.

Senator MURRAY —The reason I am pursuing some guidance from the chamber is that the opposition have indicated their position on my amendments already. The issues are well known to all the senators here. We have all been to the committee, read the submissions and heard the arguments. I could put them in a batch without arguments, except for those the opposition have indicated they are going to oppose. I could put them separately, and then we could wrap it up. However, we might want to talk a little on that, pending the House of Representatives; that is why I need the guidance.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator Murray, I am not wanting to go too fast but could I suggest that you put those amendments together where there is an agreement between the Democrats and the opposition, which I believe will provide the numbers for them to succeed in the chamber, and you put separately those amendments where there will be opposition. That way none of us will be confused.

Senator MURRAY —Thank you for your guidance, Mr Chairman. If I have correctly chosen the ones that Senator Ludwig wants me to put separately, I would propose to put, by leave, all the amendments on sheet 2783, with the exception of amendments (10) and (11), which I would put separately.

The CHAIRMAN —So you would seek leave to put amendments (1) to (8). You did say (1) to (9) but you meant (1) to (8).

Senator MURRAY —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (1) to (8) and (12):

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (lines 1 and 2), omit the clause, substitute:

2 Commencement

This Act commences on the day after the day on which the Auditor-General provides a report to both Houses of the Parliament containing the results of an investigation into whether the objectives of the Act can be reasonably met by the appropriation provided for that purpose, together with a certification by the Auditor-General that the objectives can be so met.

(2) Clause 3, page 2 (lines 3 to 5), omit the clause, substitute:

3 Objects of this Act

The objects of this Act are to:

(a) improve the administration of taxation law for the benefit of all taxpayers; and

(b) provide independent advice to government on taxation administration; and

(c) identify systemic issues in taxation administration.

(3) Clause 7, page 5 (lines 11 and 12), omit subparagraph (ii), substitute:

(ii) systems established by laws including tax laws, but only to the extent that the systems deal with tax administration.

(4) Clause 8, page 5 (lines 30 to 32), omit subclause (2).

(5) Clause 9, page 6 (lines 12 and 13), omit “subsection 8(2) and”.

(6) Clause 9, page 6 (after line 17), at the end of the clause, add:

(3) The Inspector-General must consult at least once a year with persons whom the Inspector-General considers necessary for the discharge of his or her duties, including but not limited to:

(a) taxation professionals;

(b) groups or associations representing taxpayer interests;

(c) the Board of Taxation;

(d) relevant parliamentary committees;

to assist the Inspector-General in setting his or her work program.

(7) Clause 10, page 6 (after line 1), at the end of the clause, add:

(2) After completing a review, the Inspector-General must submit a copy of a report of the review prepared in subsection (1) to the Auditor-General who is authorised by this section to audit any matter he or she considers appropriate arising from the report.

(8) Clause 11, page 7 (lines 2 to 5), omit the clause, substitute:

11 Public release of reports

The Minister must:

(a) cause a report under section 10 to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the day on which the Minister receives the report; and

(b) make the report publicly available.

(12) Page 32, (after line 18), at the end of Part 4, add:

45 Review of operation of Act

(1) The Minister must cause a review of the operation, effectiveness and implications of this Act to be conducted, together with an assessment of the sufficiency or otherwise of the budgetary allocation for the office and functions of the Inspector-General of Taxation.

(2) The review must be undertaken as soon as practicable after the fifth anniversary of the commencement of the Act.

(3) The Minister must cause a copy of the report of the review to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within six months of the commencement of the review.

Amendment (1) is a particularly important amendment; it is also an unusual amendment. There is a great contest between the government and those who are a bit sceptical of the Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002 as to whether the amount of resources committed for this purpose is going to be sufficient. Frankly, neither the Senate committee nor the senators are equipped to make that appraisal. The Auditor-General, who is steeped in tax ability and understands these things, can certainly provide that advice and, in our view, would be able to provide that advice quickly, based on the nature of the bill.

The remainder of the amendments deal with matters of consultation, removing ministerial direction, but of course they retain the moral suasion and the status of that office. I am sure the inspector-general will react very favourably to all requests. The amendments deal with the tabling of reports and the manner in which that must be done. Amendment (12) deals with a review to occur on the fifth anniversary of the act. A five-year span is perfectly reasonable.