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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 26

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (11:20 AM) —I took the last question to be on the basis of someone being found guilty. Senator Murray has now perhaps expanded the reference in the question by asking about a situation where conduct is not complained of by the tax office and there has been no charge laid. That, of course, is a more difficult situation, because you then have the presumption of innocence. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. If a person has not been charged and the authority that deals with the relevant jurisdiction has seen fit not to charge the person and to go beyond that and say, ‘We adjudge their behaviour as being unfit for office,’ then that takes us, I think, into more difficult waters. I think that, while someone occupies the position of a judge, their actions are relevant to that office, especially if they involve dishonesty. We saw recently in New South Wales a situation where a person’s actions were looked at with regard to their ability to hold office.

Any behaviour which involved dishonesty would be relevant for consideration as to fitness for office—there is no question of that. But where you have a situation with tax, it is generally a matter between the taxpayer and the Australian Taxation Office. I have always found the ATO to be very rigorous, if I can put it that way, in enforcing tax law. I do not think the tax office errs on the side of generosity. It is not renowned for that. If it came to an agreement with a taxpayer as to how taxes should be paid and had a scheme of repayment, that generally is a matter between the taxpayer and the Australian Taxation Office. If Senator Murray is saying that we should pass some legislation to demand that the tax office submit all these details to the parliament, I certainly would not be keen on that. For very good reasons, taxpayers’ affairs are kept confidential between themselves and the Australian Taxation Office. I take the point that Senator Murray is raising. It is a valid point but, where you do not have a charge being laid or you do not have a conviction, you do have the presumption of innocence and that makes it all the more difficult.