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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1414

Mr HOWARD(11.56) —The Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) is the so-called cherry picker legislation. I think it is the second or third time it has come back to this House.

Mr Hurford —The third.

Mr HOWARD —My friend at the table, the Minister Assisting the Treasurer, reminds me that it is the third time. There is really only one point at issue between the Government and the Opposition on this, and that is the date of operation of the Bill. The Government proposes that the Bill operate from 1 July 1977. We object to that and in Committee I will be moving an amendment that the commencement date be 7 December 1983. We can find no reason at all for retrospective operation of this Bill. I have been through this before and it has been gone through in another place but let me briefly recapitulate that the Government is proposing a commencement date of 1 July 1977 which in fact is two and a half years prior to a time in 1980-namely, January or February-when I as Treasurer was advised by the Commissioner of Taxation not to take action to outlaw prospectively these particular practices. In the face of that kind of evidence, it is beyond the comprehension of the Opposition how on earth the Government can possibly argue, even if one accepts that there are ongoing circumstances in which retrospective legislation can be used, that this falls within the category of Bills where ongoing retrospective legislation ought to be used. On 8 February 1980-that is, two and a half years after the Government's proposed commencement date-Commissioner O'Reilly said:

Because, in revenue terms, we have larger problems in other areas and also because of the need--

Mr Allan Morris —Oh!

Mr HOWARD —Yes, of course we had some problems in 1980, and they were being attended to. That led to the introduction of quite a large number of other measures. Mr O'Reilly continued-listen to this:

to make certain that no avoidable difficulties are created for genuine superannuation funds, I would recommend that you await the comments of the Task Force before undertaking any corrective measures to deal with actual or potential misuse of the superannuation concessions.

That was in response to a letter I had sent to the Commissioner; it was not something he had sent to me on his own initiative. People had complained about this matter to me, asking whether I thought anything ought to be done so I wrote to the Commissioner and said: 'What about it?'. That is why he wrote back. In the face of that, how on earth the Minister at the table, whom I know to be very reasonable in these things, can possibly say that we need to make it retrospective is beyond our comprehension and therefore we simply cannot support this measure.

This argument has been gone over before. In earlier debates a letter from the present Commissioner of Taxation was produced. It did not really come down on the side of the Government, although the Government alleged that it did. All Mr Boucher was willing to say was that one could reconcile what the Government was doing with the earlier memorandum. That is not very convincing. I do not think Mr Boucher ought to be dragged into something which is essentially a political debate between the two parties. The fact is that there is no basis for this. The Government is putting up an outrageous piece of legislation knowing that we are going to oppose it on good grounds. It will then run around saying: 'There you are; this proves you are the friends of the tax avoidance industry'. It is really as simple as that. There is no principle or merit in it and there is no justification for it; it is an election subterfuge. By not agreeing to apply this measure prospectively, which the Government could have done months ago, it has in fact cost the revenue millions of dollars.

If, on the Government's own definition, this is an outrageous practice, its failure to accept our offer to pass the legislation prospectively means that it is losing money. We are not going to be bluffed into this. How on earth can the Government possibly argue that something former Commissioner O'Reilly said in February 1980 ought not to be attended to and can be backdated to 1 July 1977, two and a half years earlier? This is an absolute nonsense. The Opposition will not support a nonsense measure such as this. We will support any reasonable, tough steps against tax evasion. We will not support nonsenses. We will not bow to the new McCarthyism. Apparently, if one puts a label on legislation that it is concerned with tax evasion, no matter how unreasonable or ridiculous it is, as long as it has 'tax evasion' connected with it, it is, ipso facto, to be supported no matter what is involved.

We have had lectures today from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his messianic way about rights and principles and abuse of this and that. This is a terrible abuse and we will not support it. There is no colour of justification for it. Whilst I am always moved to reasonableness, whenever the Minister for Housing and Construction and Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Hurford) is at the table, I think he is the unfortunate victim of nothing other than a cheap electoral stunt. We are not going to support it. We will move the same amendment that we moved in the past and we will continue to oppose the legislation. I emphasise yet again that, as far as the Opposition is concerned, we have already said we will support the prospective operation of this change. I invite the Government, if it is really interested in the money, as distinct from the politics, to embrace that offer. But I do not think the Government is interested in the money; it is only interested in the politics, which makes a mockery of its protestation of collecting money from the tax avoiders in order to distribute to the needy, honest taxpaying community of Australia.

Wednesday, 3 October 1984