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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- This measure is a step in the right direction. I have never been able to understand why governments have not stopped the evasion of estate duty, particularly as the methods adopted are perfectly well-known and could easily be prevented. I do not consider that the Commonwealth should issue such negotiable documents, transferable by hand, as debentures or bonds. It is notorious that many wealthy persons purchase debentures and place them in safe deposits, making the arrangement that, in the event of their death, they will be claimed by the surviving members of their families. By this means, estate duty is evaded. The bill proposes to tax gifts and donations made openly in the light of day, not surreptitiously, and in defiance of the law. It has much to commend it. But it would be more to the point if the Ministry were to agree to recall all Commonwealth bonds, and to issue only inscribed stock, the owner of which could be traced and taxed on the interest he had received from the investment. With such securities as bonds and debentures, it is impossible to prevent evasion. Not. all persons who own these Government pieces of paper are dishonest; but the dishonest can always escape taxation if they want to do so.

There is another fruitful source of evasion in the transfer of company shares. Quite a number of persons sign undated transfers of shares to members of their families or others. Upon the death of the owner, an antecedent date is placed on the transfer, with the result that estate duty is evaded, [f the Government really wishes to stop evasion of taxation, it need only promulgate regulations under the National Security Act, first in order to cover the last/ position that I have mentioned, and secondly in order to prevent the issue of debentures in connexion with any of the huge loans that are to be floated from now until the end of the war. The country would be the gainer by such action.

The value of the bill is somewhat discounted by the number of its exemptions, many of which, doubtless, are well warranted. Added to that list is another page containing the exemptions recommended by the committee which investigated the matter.

Mr A kchtx Cameron - They have widened the breach.

Mr CALWELL - There is as much exemption as taxation in the measure. I do not know how much the Government originally expected to collect, or whether it has decided to forgo a substantial sum by means of these concessions. Such calculations will have to be made later. Exemptions having been begun, it is very difficult to call a halt.

Mr Brennan - If Santa Clans does not publish a schedule, the number of gifts cannot be estimated.

Mr.CAL WELL. - I hope that the gifts which Santa Claus intends to bestow this year will be exempt.

Persons who are compelled to make returns might be assisted if the Government were to address itself to the matter of -taking over the whole of the taxation offices of the States, and running them as Commonwealth instrumentalities. It might then be possible to make one set of forms do what several sets are required to do to-day, and that would, in addition, make for unification, which is the desire of every one. The work of the department would be simplified, and relief would be given to those unfortunate persons who have a nightmare as the result of the enormity of the task that confronts them when taxation returns have tobe filled in. It is bad enough if one is only an ordinary working person, and has to fill in only one set of forms, but when one has to fill in weekly, monthly, and yearly forms, giving to the departments all the information they require, it is becoming an art. Simplification of forms is desirable. I hope that the committee will meet during the recess, in order to see what it may do to make considerably easier the lot of those who have to fill in forms.

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