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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20131

Senator COOK (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:06 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Kemp), to questions without notice asked today, relating to the goods and services tax.

This is a serious matter. It is of major concern that the minister is now leaving the chamber and not facing the criticism that can justifiably be made of his answers.

Senator COOK —I accept that interjection by Senator Herron. Nothing that I asked the minister, save the question—is there a conflict of interest here?—is not on the public record, so I reject any argument that there is any misuse of the parliamentary forum in that. I am quite happy to meet Senator Kemp outside, if that is what he wants to do, because it is a matter of fact that Mr Chris Jordan is a senior partner of KPMG, which is the question I asked, and it is a question which the minister declined to answer. It is a matter of fact that Mr Chris Jordan was a former staff adviser to the Prime Minister—something that the minister did not answer or confirm either. That is an unexceptional issue: it is on the public record. Why is he ashamed of admitting it?

It is a fact that the same Mr Jordan was appointed by the Howard government to the Howard government's new Board of Taxation, and it is a fact that the Board of Taxation was set up by the Howard government to advise it on changes to tax law. I asked the minister about those issues. Did he answer any of those questions? No. He accused me of attacking people within the parliamentary forum in an unwarranted way. Well, the reason why the last question—`Is there a conflict of interest here?'—was the one that he was desperately keen to avoid is the issue of this motion to take note of the answer. There is a serious question about a conflict of interest, about the use of favouritism by this government and about the intimidation of the tax office by accountancy houses, and from time to time by others, that goes on in order to get better tax deals for the big end of town.

Ordinary taxpayers in Australia have their taxes deducted from their wages—there is no room to fiddle with that—and they are audited. And so they should be, because they are entitled and required to pay their full amount of taxation. But what is also true here is that major accountancy houses for the big end of town make representations to the tax office on behalf of their clients to claim deductions and have deductions recognised that reduce their tax obligations. This is not an open and transparent issue. The Channel Nine Sunday program did an expose of this about two years ago. There has been a Senate inquiry into it, and it has been a matter of continuing concern to the Senate. So when it is said that a leading partner in a major accountancy house has forced the removal of eight—not one, not two, but eight—different auditors appointed in the tax office to examine, review and audit accounts from major corporations who are clients of that accountancy house, is that a small matter? Is that not a matter in which all of the facts should be put on the table? Is that not a matter which, if there is a problem here, should be dealt with instantly? If there is no problem here, should not the minister let the facts speak for themselves and prove that there isn't one? But when we asked this minister whether he would produce the report of the inquiry that has been conducted and which was referred to in yesterday's Australian Financial Review, did he say: `Yes, we'll have open disclosure. We'll have transparency. There's the report. Read for yourself'? No, he did not answer the question. He left the chamber without actually answering the question. We are none the wiser as to what this report contains. We only have the Australian Financial Review's record.

It is a matter of national concern, because tax depends on this principle: everyone pays their fair share. If someone is not paying their fair share by manipulating this process, then other taxpayers will disregard it and disrespect the system, and no tax authority can allow that to happen. Therefore, we want to see from this government the tax office report into the allegation that accountancy houses can use influence to remove auditors from the big end of town's tax cases. (Time expired)