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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1580

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE(5.20) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This is the first report to be presented in the name of the new Commissioner of Taxation, Mr Trevor Boucher, and we wish him well in his office. At the same time we give recognition to Mr W. J. O'Reilly who in the middle of 1984, having reached retirement age, retired after long and distinguished service to the Commonwealth of Australia. The report is noteworthy in as much as the Commissioner, in his overview of the activities and developments in the Taxation Office during the year, comments with regard to the promotion of tax avoidance and evasion schemes of the kind experienced in the late 1970s and early 1980s that at the time of the retirement of Mr O'Reilly it was able to be said that schemes of that kind were a thing of the past. He says:

That elimination of 'paper' schemes is one of the success stories of the last decade. They have been beaten by a combination of legislation, administration, changes in attitude and sheer hard work.

In speaking to that comment I think it fair to pay tribute to the work of Mr W. J. O'Reilly as Commissioner and to John Howard as Treasurer for the many pieces of legislation brought into and passed through the Parliament to deal with these paper schemes and with the various ways in which tax avoidance and evasion were practised. Mr Boucher, the Commissioner, in this report says:

Collecting taxes sought to be escaped through these schemes has been and continues to be a problem, despite significant progress. A legacy of work remains. While the boom was on, the whole tax administration system was strained and the Australian Taxation Office was unable to get done all it wished to do, and all that-by some standard of perfection-it 'ought' to have done.

Mr O'Reilly's earlier annual reports made reference to these problems and to the way in which the Taxation Office was seeking to deal with them. So Mr Boucher is able to say:

The legacy that remains continues to affect our ability to achieve all we would like to achieve.

Then he is able in this report to point to the numbers of things that have been done with regard to additional staff and systems and expresses the hope that the Office will be able to give the kind of service in the collection of the revenue that it would wish to see as the body administering the tax laws on behalf of the Commonwealth. Mr Boucher refers to the fact that, when the ordinary collection of revenue work is added to the abnormal work that has come the way of the Taxation Office as a result of the avoidance and evasion schemes referred to, it is more a case for congratulations that the system was made to work as well as it did than a matter of censure that particular things were not pursued in the way they might have been, taking that factor in isolation. He makes the plea that a person who is minded to criticise the Taxation Office for perceived shortcomings in one or another area of operations does a grave injustice to the Office and its staff. As a member of the Government during the period he is referring to in the 1970s and early 1980s, I would like to say that there was a great deal of effort by the Taxation Office to work with the Treasurer of the day to overcome the very problems that have been mentioned. I think it was not fitting that a very selective quotation from that Commissioner's overview was given at Question Time today by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) who represents the Prime Minister.

One other matter I will refer to in the minute left to me is the company statistics given by the Commissioner under the heading of 'Recoupment Tax'. He refers to the assessments that have been given since companies were identified as subject to the recoupment tax legislation introduced by the Fraser Government . He says that since June 1983 a further 542 companies have been identified as being subject to the legislation and that the task of ensuring that the legislation is applied to all companies that were stripped of pre-tax profits is continuing. He gives a breakdown showing the total number of companies identified at 30 June 1984 as 6,206. He refers to the numbers of assessments and the amount of revenue collected as a result of that legislation. I think these matters are of interest to the Senate, so I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave not granted.