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Tuesday, 30 November 1965

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) .- I move -

That this Bill be referred to a select committee.

This is the first time in, I think, almost 20 years that this procedure has been used, but I hope to place before honorable members on both sides of the Parliament the reason why this is the appropriate machinery for dealing with this kind of bill, not only on account of this Bill but on account of other bills of a similar character that I believe Parliament is failing to deal with through the appropriate machinery and as the public would have them dealt with. I am restricted in what I may say. I may not go back to the second reading debate nor may I go forward and refer to the amendments that are proposed to be dealt with at the Committee stage, so I content myself with setting out as clearly as I can the reasons why what I have proposed is the appropriate machinery for Parliament in dealing with this Bill, remembering that it will have many counter parts - bills of a similar nature - as time goes on. It is for this reason that I am raising the matter now.

This is a highly complex and technical Bill. As the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has mentioned, it stems from a report by the Ligertwood Committee - a lengthy, complex and highly technical report. The Bill consists of 33 pages. The explanatory notes prepared by the Treasury occupy 92 pages. To give some notion of the complexity of the Bill I should like to quote merely as an example, without dealing with it - one section of the principal Act that it proposes to repeal. I refer to section 82AAG of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act (No. 3) of 1964. It reads -

The deduction, or the sum of the deductions, allowable under this Sub-division in an assessment of a taxpayer in respect of income of the year of income in respect of an amount or amounts set apart or paid by him as or to a funds or funds for the purpose of making provision for superannuation benefits for, or for dependants of, employees is the amount of that deduction or the sum of the amounts of those deductions, as ascertained in accordance with the preceding provisions of this Sub-division, reduced by the value of the previous deductions, if any, in respect of benefits the rights to receive which have been lost or forfeited by employees after the commencement of the year of income that commences on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-five, but before the end of the first-mentioned year of income, other than any part of that value thathas been taken into account by virture of this section in reducing the deduction, or the sum of the deductions, allowed or allowable under this Sub-division in assessments of the taxpayer in respect of income of years of income preceding the first-mentioned year of income.

I have quoted the section simply as an indication that this is a complex Bill. I believe that if I 'had recited the first 50 lines of the Iliad in the original Greek it would have been as comprehensible to honorable members as the section I have just quoted, and in saying that I do not cast aspersions on the intelligence and understanding of honorable members.

I have said that this is a complex Bill. It is complex, not only because of its length, but also because of its nature. It follows upon equally complex amendments made at the end of last year, when the Bill ran into 62 pages with explanatory notes covering 115 pages. The Bill now before us is a rehash of what was contained in the legislation that we dealt with at the end of last year. I say therefore that because this Bill is lengthy and because it is complex it is not intelligible to honorable members and it is not a measure proper for consideration by the Committee of the Whole. It is however, a bill proper to be considered by a select committee.

My second reason for saying that the Bill should be referred to a select committee - I will stay strictly within the Standing Orders - is that it does not deal with all of the matters raised in the corresponding legislation at the end of last year. It deals, of course, with superannuation funds. Having listened to the debate in the House on the second reading of the Bill and having heard discussions outside the chamber, I am convinced that even so far as this legislation relates to superannuation funds it does not cover all of the matters and difficulties that have been raised in the minds of honorable members. But, of course, the Bill in 1964 dealt with other matters as well. These are not covered in the present Bill, although it is quite possible under the title of the Bill now before the House - " a Bill for an Act Relating to Income Tax " - technically to deal with those other matters not dealt with in this Bill but which relate to the amendments introduced last year.

Thirdly the Bill does not in any way cover matters that were raised, for instance, by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), namely the creation of some more permanent machinery for keeping taxation law up to date. Various suggestions have been made in the course of the debate but this matter has not been resolved. It is obviously an important matter that would be within the terms of the Bill before the House, but it has not been dealt with.

I gave as my second reason the fact that the Bill simply does not deal fully even with the one field of superannuation funds, let alone the other fields covered in the Bill of 1964. Nor does the present Bill deal with the matter of permanent machinery for the review of taxation law. In other words, the Bill is incomplete and therefore should be referred to a select committee. The short title of the Bill would permit a select committee to go into other matters which are not covered in the Bill and which should be covered. I remind honorable members that the Treasurer gave an assurance in 1964 when amendments were pushed through the House - 'bull-dozed through with scarcely even the pretence of debate - that members would be afforded an opportunity to go into this matter in detail. In my opinion this Bill does not afford that opportunity, but a select committee would.

I pass on, still strictly within the Standing Orders, to discuss my third reason. A Committee of the Whole is completely inappropriate machinery for dealing with this Bill or with any bill of this nature. May I remind honorable members of the nature of a Committee of the Whole? The Committee of the Whole is very like the House as we see it now. First of all, it sits in this chamber. You, Mr. Speaker, with the dignity of your wig would have departed and the Chairman of Committees would be in the chair at the head of the table without a wig. But often he presides in your seat, still without a wig, so the difference is not very remarkable. The mace, instead of being on the table, would be decorously hidden at the foot of the table. Honorable members would be seated as they are now at great intervals from one another. Australia's great empty spaces may always be observed in this chamber. It is not exactly an intimate chamber designed for intimate discussion. In fact, we do not look at all like a committee. The Minister, naturally, sits at the table. His departmental officers sit about eight yards away from him. To consult with them is not very easy.

Contrast on the other hand proceedings of a select committee. It would not be meeting in this chamber. It would meet in one of the committee rooms of the Parliament. Members of the select committee would sit around a table without the vast open spaces between them. If the Treasurer presided - he would not have to, but he could participate in such a committee if he chose to do so - he would have his officers at his elbow and not yards away. Witnesses could be summoned before the committee. It might be possible to invite a Treasury official to explain in more simple terms the meaning of the section I quoted. This might be advantageous so that honorable members might know more precisely what was meant by such a section, which is typical of the clauses of the Bill. In short, in a select committee it would be possible for honorable members to know what the Bill is about. I submit that as the Bill stands, here in the Committee of the Whole honorable members have neither the opportunity, the facility nor the surroundings to enable a proper consideration and scrutiny by the Parliament of this kind of Bill.

I believe that the people expect Parliament to perform its duty. One of its duties is to scrutinise carefully legislation coming before the House. I am convinced that the machinery of the Committee of the Whole is inappropriate to enable Parliament to carry out its plain duty to scrutinise legislation. A select committee is the way to do it. Some reference was made, I think by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports - perhaps I should not refer to such matters at this stage - to the writings of a financial editor in London who said that a bill of this kind should surely go to a committee, whether a select committee or a standing committee, of the House of Commons. But we do not have standing committees and I do not suggest that, with our small numbers, we should have them. However, when a bill is appropriate for consideration in committee on account of its complexity, then I say that so far as we are concerned it would be appropriate, having regard to the nature of the bill, to refer it in our circumstances to a select committee.

In support of my argument may I say that the mere fact that this Bill has received very careful consideration by a Government members' committee, presided over by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen), indicates that this is the kind of bill that should be dealt with in committee? This is precisely how it was dealt with by honorable members on this side and, for all I know, there could be an Opposition members' taxation committee which also has considered the Bill. This Government members' committee had the opportunity of hearing the officers who could give some explanation of these rather obscure matters. If it is appropriate for consideration - and, indeed, it has been given consideration - by a committee of members on this side of the House, and possibly by a committee on the other side, with the aid of the technical officers to explain it, why should it not be dealt with by a select committee of the Parliament? The best argument in favour of committee consideration is that in fact this is how it has been considered, although only by a Party committee.

My next reason for advocating this procedure is that it so happens that the Parliament has available to it personnel who are peculiarly well qualified to consider the Bill. The honorable member for Parramatta, for instance, is a distinguished Queen's Counsel and not without knowledge in the field of taxation law. I might mention other honorable members in passing. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Hughes) is not unacquainted with the law. There are other lawyers not only on both sides of this House but also in another place. This matter could well be the subject of consideration by a joint committee. But we are not confined to lawyers. They are most valuable people particularly in dealing with a Bill of this kind, but we also have here, for example, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the former Chairman of that Committee. We have members of the Government members' taxation committee and no doubt there are members of the Opposition's taxation committee. We have people who are skilled in this field and who could make up a select committee to deal with this matter. The work that has already been done on it would shorten the proceedings of the select committee.

I am one of perhaps half a dozen members on this side of the House who has been in Opposition. I find that because most of my fellow members have been on the Government side only they are inclined to think in terms of the one-party state and to ask: "What does the Opposition matter? We have a committee of members on the Government side and that committee can deal with these matters." Having been on the Opposition side myself - not in this House but in another Parliament - I realise that the Parliament consists of two sides and not one. I would not like to see the emergence of the one-party state. The wheel could turn full circle and honorable members who are now sitting opposite could be on this side of the House. We would then have the other-party state. If they then did as we do - as well they might by parity of reasoning - they would be inclined to say to us: " We are now in office and we can look after this matter. There is no need for you to participate." To exclude half the Parliament from performing its proper duty would be, to my mind, intolerable. I suppose it does not matter very much that it is intolerable to me; I do not matter. However, so far as I am concerned it is simply totally wrong. I believe, therefore, that the Opposition should participate in an exercise of this kind.

Now I pass on to another aspect of the matter. I know that not all bills are suitable for reference to a select committee of both sides of the House. Mere complexity is not a sufficient reason for such reference. But in this case there is another reason. A bill that is highly political in content might not be a suitable subject for a select committee because that committee might spend the whole of its time playing politics, and I know of nothing that wastes the time of the House more than playing politics in this fashion. We have members on both sides who enjoy the game, but I do not think it is very fruitful for the public or very useful in advancing the interests of the various parties. But this is not a bill involving great political differences. We are agreed about the need; the need is to prevent people from avoiding taxation by a variety of devices. We are all agreed about this on both sides of the House. The question remaining is purely one of means, and of course the Government with a majority of members on the select committee, could ensure that its objective was carried into effect. But in carrying out the objective, or in looking to the means of doing so, we should be concerned not only that the objective is achieved but also that in the course of achieving the objective there should not be introduced byproducts in the form of injustices that might have been avoided if more thought and consideration had been given to the matter, such as could be given by a select committee.

There are, of course, people who will say. " But there are matters in this Bill that will brook no delay. A select committee would take time. We are moving towards the end of the sessional period and a delay in respect of some of these matters would be intolerable ". Well, let us look more closely at that proposition. Of course this step could have been taken weeks ago, but the Government did not choose to do so, although I raised the point elsewhere two or three weeks ago. But let us forget about the past and look to the future. Suppose the select committee were to report by 31st March next year. This would not be impossible. The House will be sitting again in February in ordinary session. A good deal of the spadework has been done, thanks to the labours, to which I pay full tribute, of my honorable friend from Parramatta, thanks to the consideration given to this measure by members of the Opposition, no doubt under the inspiration of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), and thanks also to the considerable thought given to it by many others. So, in view of the spadework already done, it should not be impossible for a select committee to report by 31st March.

Again it will be said: " Yes, but there are some matters that are more urgent than others. There is the question of exempting the pay of members of the forces in Vietnam and Malaysia from taxation liability." I would agree that this is not only important but also urgent. Is there any reason why part of the Bill should not be detached and why the Treasurer should not bring down another bill to deal purely with that aspect? I should imagine that there is such conformity of view in the House on this matter that if he brought down such a bill tomorrow it would be passed by tomorrow night. We could put on one side all the technicalities in this Bill which require further examination, going back to the corresponding legislation of 1964, and deal with the urgent matters very expeditiously. So the suggestion that there would be a great delay is not really a good argument for saying that there should be no select committee.

As I mentioned earlier, we do not have many standing committees in this Parliament, and with our numbers it would not be possible to have them. I think we have to examine any particular bill having regard to its nature and its suitability to be dealt with by some machinery other than a Committee of the Whole. For too long have bills been bulldozed through this Parliament in a Committee of the Whole. The process has become simply a farce. In my early days in Parliament - if I may be forgiven for some slight reminiscence - bills were amended, I recall, on the floor of the House. Often a Minister would consult his officials and amend a bill more or less on the spur of the moment. I do not advocate this. But very frequently a clause was postponed until later in the day so that consideration could be given to it quietly by the officials and by the Minister. Then the Minister would later state his attitude to the suggested amendment. On other occasions assurances have been given by a Minister that proposed amendment would be considered. Then after there had been time for it to be weighed the amendment was sometimes inserted in the other House.

I have not seen this sort of thing happen here and I do not believe that with a Committee of the Whole such as we have, without an opportunity to summon officers to explain clauses like the one I mentioned earlier, it would be possible to adopt such procedures with advantage. So I have taken the opportunity of suggesting this rather unusual machinery that has not been used for almost 20 years, not in the hope that the Government will agree now and not in the hope that the Opposition will understand its interest in this matter, but simply because I want to direct attention to a procedure that we have not been using and that we ought to use in appropriate cases. I do no more than hope that honorable members on both sides will realise that this is machinery that they could use and that they ought to use, and that they ought to be vigilant to look for opportunities of giving the Parliament the correct machinery with which to do its job as the people expect the job to be done, that is, after a proper scrutiny of measures brought before it by the Government.

Mr SPEAKER - Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wentworth - I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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