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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1582

Senator ARCHER(5.35) —I think it is important to note one or two of the statistics that are included in the sixty-third report of the Commissioner of Taxation. It just so happens that I have opened it at page 57, where I find that the number of people employed in the Australian Taxation Office is now 14, 866, plus 725 officers and employees absent on extended leave or attending full time training courses. The tax collection business has grown to enormous proportions. The complexity of the Income Tax Assessment Act must be largely responsible for the number of people involved in the collection of tax and the very size of this report. It now takes nearly 200 pages to produce the annual tax report. If we were to grapple properly with the tax Act and the whole system of taxation we may well be able to reduce the size of this report.

One has to look only at the considerable listing of people who suffered prosecution for various reasons under the Act to wonder how many of them made errors or were given confusing information by professionals or whatever. There must be all sorts of reasons why some of those people are listed, besides the fact that they flagrantly, wantonly or knowingly understated or mis-stated their financial position. We need to do a lot of work on this matter to see what can be done to improve the situation.

I also notice that the Commonwealth Ombudsman got behind in his inquiries involving the Taxation Office. At 1 July 1983 he had 111 incomplete cases in hand. He received 99 during the year but he completed only 57. So at the end of the year the position was 57 per cent worse than it was at the beginning of the year. On this basis one wonders whether the system is being bogged down or whether the priority which is given to settling these matters is very low. The same applies to freedom of information. The number of incomplete cases on hand at 1 July 1983 was 285. Some 3,472 were added during the year and 398 were left outstanding at the end of the year, which is 50 per cent more than the number at the beginning of the year. I think it is important to acknowledge that if we are to have this sort of legislation and if it is intended that people should have access to information it must be given. The fact that the Ombudsman, in dealing with taxation and freedom of information inquiries, finished the year with 50 per cent more inquiries than he started the year with is a matter that must be of some concern to the Government.

The decisions of the courts, which I have not as yet had a chance to read closely, always make interesting reading. One sees what the interpretations currently are. Five taxation appeals were decided by the High Court of Australia , 23 by the Federal Court of Australia and 46 by various Supreme Courts. That is a remarkably small number for the number of complaints and objections that exist . I am not sure whether this indicates that people have a genuine reluctance to test their rights in court or whether it indicates that the system provides adequate ability now for people to be able to get reasonable discussion on their taxation position and are able to resolve their problems at that point.