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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 976

Senator WALSH (Minister for Resources and Energy)(11.29) — Firstly, may I set Senator Chaney's conspiracy theory to rest. I have had in my office for some time a number of photocopies of what, as I have said before, I believe are genuine documents. Some of those, as Senator Chaney has acknowledged , have been tabled previously. I retrieved them yesterday because I was expecting the sort of muck-raking murky attack that was launched by the Liberal Party of Australia in the House of Representatives and in particular by a prominent Liberal Party front bencher and former Premier who read from what he said purported to be a communication to the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking. I had been anticipating that the Liberal Party would attempt in desperation to resort to those tactics in what it knows is an election year. I say to Senator Chaney there is no conspiracy. I have had those copies for probably a year, maybe even longer-I do not remember precisely. There was no conspiracy. The bundle of documents had been in my office for some time. I just brought them down here and yesterday I tabled them.

I expect and assume, indeed I take for granted, that the vote on this stunt will bear no relationship to the argument which has been offered. It will, of course, be a jockeying for political position and perceived-I believe misperceived-political advantage. I anticipate a pious speech on this matter from Senator Chipp.

The question of tax evasion is a very serious one. The way in which the Senate votes on tax evasion is a serious matter. I remind Senator Chipp that he has been reported in the Press as saying that the Australian Democrats were offered a bribe of $500,000. I think the bribe was offered to the Democrats as a party but if that is not correct I apologise. They were offered a bribe of $500,000 to vote against legislation. I would have thought that there was some obligation on Senator Chipp to name in the Parliament the people who offered that attempted bribe. I make it very clear that I am not implying that Senator Chipp or any of the other Australian Democrats accepted a bribe. I do not believe they did. But Senator Chipp has said that a bribe was offered. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that statement. I do, however, believe that Senator Chipp has an obligation to the Senate and, more importantly, an obligation to the Australian community to identify the people who offered that bribe. Proceeding on the assumption that the bribe was offered, I would have thought that that was a far more serious matter-that legislators of this parliament are being offered enormous bribes to vote against particular legislation. I have already said that I do not believe the Democrats accepted a bribe. I do not believe it affected their votes because their voting habit has been consistent. The same, however, cannot be said for everybody.

Senator Chaney's pious sermon, towards the end, must have been received very sceptically by anybody who was in this Senate in 1974 and 1975, as I was. Senator Chaney has expressed views to me privately, not about these precise matters but generally similar in tone-I am sure you will not mind my repeating this, Fred-

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister must not refer to a member by his Christian name.

Senator WALSH —I am sorry, Mr President. I am sure Senator Chaney will not mind my-

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator WALSH —If honourable senators opposite are objecting I will not say it. Perhaps Senator Chaney cannot remember what it was. I will not pursue that matter because I do not pursue private conversations. The substance of the point I am making is that we are seeing the humbug and the hypocrisy of the bandits of the Liberal Party who, from the day of the 1972 election, refused to accept the legitimacy of the elected Government and who used every dirty trick in the book inside and outside this Parliament to see that the will of the people as expressed in two elections was aborted. I am filled with disgust that the people who in some cases orchestrated and in other cases collaborated in that exercise have the temerity, the humbug and the hypocrisy to preach piously in the Senate about alleged misconduct.

It was equally appropriate, and in the same vein, that the discredited former Treasurer, who honourable senators will remember was told five days before the last Federal election that there was an impending deficit of $9.6 billion for 1983-84 and who collaborated in the then Prime Minister's deception of the Australian people by saying that the impending deficit was $6 billion, should have been in the Senate to watch his protege, Senator Chaney, when he pulled on this stunt. It is also worth noting that very early in Question Time yesterday that same discredited former Treasurer attempted to gain political mileage from the Liberal Party by spreading baseless innuendo about the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins). The first point-

Senator Cook —It should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

Senator WALSH —I was about to say precisely what Senator Cook said. It is being treated as a cheap stunt by a bunch of desperate and sullied politicians in the run-up to an election campaign. The Senate is being used as a forum for a cheap stunt.

I return to the original comment Senator Chaney made. He accused me of misleading the Senate because I said today-I do not have the exact words of what I said, but I think the substance of what he said was accurate enough-that the documents I tabled yesterday were simply tabled without comment. Senator Chaney drew attention to the fact that I identified that the company name appearing on those cheques was a well known Moll company. That it is, and that is a fact that has been put on the public record dozens of times. I do not accept Senator Chaney's charge because the context in which the questions today were asked did not refer to what was printed or the account on which the cheque was drawn, but quite clearly in some cases if not all explicitly to handwritten comments which were also on the cheques. I made absolutely no comments on those handwritten comments yesterday, so I do not accept that there is any substance to Senator Chaney's claim on that.

Senator Chaney mentioned, just to reinforce the point I had a bundle of them in the office and I brought them down and tabled them yesterday, that some of them- I am not sure which ones-had been tabled previously. Senator Chaney on that occasion did not choose to move a censure motion. Members of the opposition asked a couple of questions about the authenticity of the documents and were given the same answer on that occasion as I am giving now. They did not try to pull on a stunt like this then, because there was not an election coming up. That is the reason this stunt was pulled on today. The Liberal Party, in particular, is facing an election in which it knows it will be slaughtered. It is willing to pull any stunt to save it from the electoral Armageddon for which it believes it is headed.

Senator Cook —Rightly headed, too.

Senator WALSH —Rightly so. It will use any stunt to divert public attention from the fact that this Liberal Party and the discredited former Treasurer who was here a moment ago for almost three years ignored increasingly desperate entreaties from the Commissioner of Taxation to take action against bottom of the harbour tax evaders. No wonder this Liberal Party wants to divert public attention from its record by using the forms of this Senate or using this Senate as a forum in which to stage a cheap stunt and as a place in which to shed its crocodile tears in view of that record. It had an Attorney-General who presided for five years over inertia; who sat on a document recommending prosecution, and allowed it to gather dust in the bottom drawer for five years while he did nothing.

If the Opposition, and particularly the Liberal Party, is genuinely concerned about what it piously calls standards of conduct or propriety in the Senate-I recognise that it cannot retrospectively remove its own improprieties of 1974-75 -I suggest that it do something about one of its own members, the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) and not sit here whingeing and complaining when there is retaliation of a lower-I should say different-but related kind--

Senator Peter Rae —I think you were right the first time, a much lower kind.

Senator WALSH —By 'lower' I meant a lower order of magnitude, Senator Rae, then I decided that it would be more appropriate to use an alternative term. Although this cheap stunt should be treated with contempt, and I suggest that the best thing that the Senate can do is wind up this debate fairly quickly-

Senator Chaney —I bet you do!

Senator WALSH —No, I particularly want Senator Chipp to speak; I presume he will , he has been making some notes. The Senate should get down to the real business of the Estimates committees for this afternoon. Although the debate itself is a stunt, the issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion was important and it continues to be important. In particular, the record of those people who, as in the case of the former Government, presided inert as stuffed bullfrogs over massive tax evasion year on year on year is one that should be remembered. The way this Senate continues to vote on taxation Bills should be noted by the people. We know the record of this Senate-it passed retrospective legislation when the Fraser Government was in office and the great majority of Liberal and National Party senators voted for it. The Senate has on four occasions rejected Bills which are related to that Bill, which it passed. All the Liberal and National Party senators who voted for the Fraser legislation and who are still here, voted against our Bills.

Senator Archer —What about your misleading of us?

Senator WALSH —I have dealt with the misleading allegations. I can understand why Senator Archer does not want to be reminded of far more substantial matters. Three of the Democrats have voted, erroneously in my view, but at least consistently, against both the previous Government's legislation and this Government's legislation. We have already dealt with Senator Harradine. On the same specific question he voted one way the first time and the opposite way the second time. That is something that should be noted.

Senator Harradine —Can you not understand plain language?

Senator WALSH —Since Senator Harradine is interjecting I think it would be appropriate for me to repeat the challenge that I made in writing yesterday and that is-

Senator Walters —Why didn't you go outside and meet us on the steps? We were waiting for you.

Senator WALSH —If I had known you were there there was no way I would have fronted up.

Senator Walters —Well, you did not.

Senator WALSH —I would not go anywhere that you were if I could possibly avoid it. Senator Harradine issued a challenge yesterday that I should endorse and republish-something like that-the pamphlet which I had commenced, with one reservation, the day before. I did exactly that, I wrote his name on it, signed it and dated it. The challenge was taken up and the bluff was called. However faulty Senator Harradine's memory may be, he has always been ingenious. I stress that it does not pay to underestimate his ingenuity. His response to that is to threaten to issue a stop writ, which he has not yet done, or a writ for defamation in order that this subject can no longer be discussed by the Press for as long as that stop writ is hanging around. The Press will not dare to publish any comment on the taxation issue or his role in taxation legislation in the way that he voted while that writ is around. For that reason, I challenge him, if he is going to issue a writ, to get that writ into court at the earliest possible time and have it dealt with so that we can then unmuzzle the Press and allow it to report the facts and informed comment arising from those facts.

It is a well known fact, and not even the Opposition disputes this, that at stake in the first taxation Bill which this Government introduced was revenue of $570m. Because that revenue will not be collected because of the actions of the Senate, honest decent taxpayers will have to pay more tax than they would have paid if the Senate had passed those Bills. Although some people have at least had consistent objections to the principle of retrospectivity, others have not. They cannot plead a genuine and consistent opposition to the principle of retrospectivity, no matter what the cost. It is on those people that attention should be focused, because $570m of revenue has been thrown away because of the actions of the majority of this Senate. Moreover, an unquantifiable amount could be lost in the future because the threat of retrospective legislation against tax avoiders-in the context of those Bills, leaving aside the legal technicalities, a more accurate term would be tax evaders, that is, people who took deliberate and artificial actions to avoid taxation payments for which they would have been liable--

Senator Lajovic —Like Mr Dawkins.

Senator WALSH —I am glad that Senator Lajovic mentioned Mr Dawkins because we all know who set up that little deal. It is true that at about third remove Mr Dawkins was a shareholder in a company which had shares in Metro, but who organised the sinking of Metro? It was the chairman of the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee. He was the chairman at the time when Senator Crichton-Browne was the State President of the Party. He organised it in conjunction with Mr Ronald Wass, another member of the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee. I suppose it could be coincidental that six or seven of the then 15 members of the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee were subsequently shown to have been involved, either as promoters or as organisers of the sinking of companies to the bottom of the harbour. I suppose it could be a coincidence that there should have been that concentration of people on the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee at the same time that Senator Crichton-Browne was State President. It is possible that it was a coincidence, but it is a matter of public record that six or seven members of the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee were subsequently shown to have been involved in those activities.

A great deal of money is involved in these taxation Bills, and there is a clear incentive for people who have a vested interest to influence politicians to ensure that the Fraser Government's legislation on tax recoupment is not carried through to its logical extension. That is not just hypothesis. Senator Chipp has told the Press and been reported in the Press as saying that the Australian Democrats were offered a bribe of $500,000 to vote against that legislation. I make no suggestion, nor indeed do I believe, that that offer influenced the way that any of the Democrats voted.

The fact remains that Senator Chipp said that that had happened. I would have thought that if this Senate were concerned about genuine propriety, rather than pulling off a stunt like this because somebody thinks that someone has been nasty to someone else and said nasty things, it would be more interested in getting down to the fundamentals of this question. What Senator Chipp has said is that attempts have been made to bribe members of this Senate and to secure their votes on a piece of legislation.

Senator Cook —How many more attempts were made?

Senator WALSH —That is a very interesting question, Senator Cook. I think it is unlikely if it is correct that the Australian Democrats, who it was well known had a crucial role or potentially could have had a crucial role to play in the fate of that tax legislation, were offered a bribe-and I have no reason to doubt Senator Chipp's claims-other people who could have played crucial roles may also have been approached.

But I come to the real point in respect of the matter raised by Senator Chipp. He has given no indication that he is disputing the facts or the previous reports to which I have referred and he still gives no indication of that; so I take it that he agrees that what he has said in the past has been accurately reported. That must surely be the grossest contempt of Parliament short of a death threat imaginable. It must be the grossest contempt of Parliament short of a death threat which is conceivable. But nobody on the other side of the Senate seems to care about it. I once made a public comment about that. But nobody on the other side cares that Senator Chipp has said that the Democrats were offered half a million dollars to vote in a particular way on a piece of legislation. To the extent that that happens, it is not only a contempt of the Senate; it is also very clearly a threat to the fundamental structure of this society if the votes of politicians on legislation can be bought. On the assumption that Senator Chipp intends to speak, I invite him to identify the source of that claim and the means by which the bribe offer was communicated to him. When that is done I think the Senate should at some subsequent time consider what action ought to be taken pursuant to it. That will then be a real test as to whether members of the Opposition have any real interest in the substance as distinct from the shadow.