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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17612

Mr Murphy asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 14 May 2003:

(1) Is he aware that Mr Clarrie Stevens, Mr John Cummins, Mr Stephen Archer, Mr Timothy Wardell, Mr Robert Somosi, and Mr Roger de Robilliard, who have been the subject of notorious taxation fraud and other breaches, and who were formerly holders of practising certificates and registered as Barristers on the roll of the New South Wales Bar Association, are no longer registered with that Bar Association.

(2) Is he also aware that these persons were the subject of persistent adverse media coverage leading up to their ultimate discovery and expulsion as barristers on grounds of repeated abuse of licit legal instruments such as family court property orders, bankruptcy provisions including creditors petitions, family trusts and other instruments, for the sole or substantial purpose of either defrauding the Commonwealth of its revenue by evading taxation or placing assets out of the reach of the Taxation Commissioner who was usually their sole or principal creditor.

(3) What preventive and punitive steps is he taking to ensure that it is not necessary for the media and public outcry to force action to be taken in these matters; if no action is being taken, why not?

Mr Williams (Attorney-General) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) I am aware of the allegations concerning a number of barristers, including some of those named in the honourable member's question. As advised in my answer to your question on notice 1416, all States and Territories have codes of conduct for legal practitioners. The enforcement of those standards of conduct is a matter for the relevant State or Territory legal professional body and Supreme Court. The NSW Bar Association does not inform me of what action it takes in respect of individual barristers.

(2) I am well aware generally of media coverage of the issue of high income professionals using bankruptcy law to avoid their taxation obligations.

(3) As I indicated in my answer to your question on notice number 1416 (3), the Government has introduced changes to bankruptcy law aimed at preventing people using bankruptcy in an improper way. Amendments to the Bankruptcy Act 1966 contained in the Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment Act 2002 allow Official Receivers to reject a debtor's petition where it appears the debtor can afford to pay their debts and the petition is an abuse of the bankruptcy system. Other changes include strengthening of the trustee's powers to object to the discharge from bankruptcy of uncooperative bankrupts after the standard three year bankruptcy period.

In relation to the issue of high income earners using bankruptcy to avoid paying tax, following consideration of a report by an agency taskforce, the Government released an issues paper on possible further changes to bankruptcy and family law to address these issues. The issues paper was open for comment until 20 February 2003. Comments received are being considered and will assist the Government in finalising its approach to this issue.

In our joint press release of 2 May 2003 the Assistant Treasurer, Senator the Hon Helen Coonan, and I reported in detail on the progress made to date responding to the recommendations of the taskforce. However, a timeline for the introduction of any amendments to legislation that I administer flowing from the report and the submissions received in response to the issues paper cannot be determined until all of the submissions have been considered.