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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 970


Mr SPENDER(10.58) —We welcome the acceptance by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) of the amendment that has been made in the Senate because that amendment expresses a principle. The principle is that whether or not one likes the way in which the game is being played, one does not change the rules after the game is over. It is as simple as that. For all that we have heard from the other side, the Australian people are coming to understand how important that principle is. If the Government can change the tax rules after the game is over, it can change the rules in regard to any issue which happens to strike its interest or which happens to be prompted by the socialist Left and which the Government takes on board as a convenient trade-off to try to get something else on the books. We have heard for about the fifteenth time the Treasurer say that the previous Treasurer hid behind section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. He knows that to be untrue. He knows it to be misleading, but his remarks in this respect, like so much of what he says, are a collection, a rats nest, of half-truths, arrogance, selective memory and direct deception.

I remind the Treasurer of the provisions of section 16 of the Act. He has been Treasurer for two years so he can hardly claim that he does not understand what section 16 says. Section 16 is the secrecy provision. It is a very draconic provision. We have had as yet no proposal by this Government to amend section 16, although from what the Treasurer said today, apparently we can expect one in the very near future. Under the heading 'Officers to observe secrecy', section 16 (2) states that, subject to certain specific exemptions:

. . . an officer shall not either directly or indirectly, except in the performance of any duty as an officer, and either while he is, or after he ceases to be an officer, make a record of, or divulge or communicate to any person any such information so acquired by him.

Later, in section 16 (4), we see a provision to the same effect. Certain specific exemptions are provided for but subject to those exemptions, no officer may divulge information which he has received as an officer under the Income Tax Assessment Act. Just in case anyone should think-indeed, anyone who had listened to the Treasurer would think it-that section 16 provides for some exemption which applies to Ministers, let me read section 16 (5A), which states:

For the purposes of sub-sections (2) and (5), an officer or person shall be deemed to have communicated such information to another person in contravention of those sub-sections if he communicates that information to any Minister or to any Minister of the Crown of a State.

That is, any Minister of the Commonwealth or any State Minister. It could not be plainer. For the Treasurer to suggest that there is some way to hide behind section 16 is a direct attempt to deceive the public as to the meaning of section 16. He cannot tell us that he really does not understand what it means. Is this merely another example of that selective memory so characteristic of this Treasurer and this Government? Perhaps the Treasurer can tell the Committee now, since he apparently thinks that section 16 is wrong-and if he is to be taken as a man seeking to speak his mind honestly, seeking to inform the Australian people honestly of what he believes-when he is going to amend section 16. Does he propose to allow the ordinary affairs of the Australian taxpayer to be made public? If he does, let him say so. If he does not, let us have no more nonsense, no more attempts to deceive the Australian public about the effect of section 16.

While this debate has been in progress we have heard something about a capital gains tax. The Treasurer has said to us that this Government, which crawled into power and which, were it to face the polls now, would be thrown out of power, has been given a blank cheque by the Australian people and that the Australian people will crush the Opposition. Is that not rich coming from the Government which, in the three months since election, has demonstrated a capacity to blunder which would be hard to match by any democratically elected government? It has also shown the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his true colours. What is he? He is the trimmer. He trims to the Centre, he trims to the Left, he backs, he fills and he reneges on obligations entered into in this country's deepest security interests-why? It is because the pressure is becoming a little hot from the socialist Left whom he does not have the guts to confront at any time. Was it not he who said of one of his esteemed colleagues that something that colleague had done was a gutless capitulation to the Left? What have we heard of this Prime Minister since the election? We have nothing but a chapter in a book which he is presently writing. That book should be entitled How the Prime Minister of Australia Capitulated to the Left.

Let me get back to the Treasurer. He has the effrontery to tell this House and the Australian people that somehow this Government has a blank cheque-to do what? It has a blank cheque, he says, to write any taxation legislation it likes, whereas during the campaign it was studiously silent and deliberately deceptive about its intentions. We now know that the Treasurer favours a capital gains tax. When, in the election campaign, did he tell the people about that? Is it not straight deception to refuse to reveal one's hand on something like that when one knows very well that, if one wins, the first thing one will say is that one favours a capital gains tax? He knew it. He and the Government went to the people and lied to them. That is one of the reasons why it just managed to crawl back into power. Mr Chairman, you will remember all that was said about us during the campaign-that we were seeking to frighten the Australian people about the Government's intentions. How accurate was our record in that campaign? How accurate were our forecasts? They were spot on, as the Australian people are now learning.

Lastly, I want to say something about the summit. We have heard a great deal about the summit. We know that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are busy negotiating with the factions. We know that the institutionalised factions are dealing with each other as separate political parties. In doing so they will bring down this Government and the Australian Labor Party. But we know that it is not a question of the Government explaining to its Party. It has to explain to the factions. It has to deal with the factions, and particularly the factions on the Left. The Government has to throw the Left a few morsels. One morsel may be MX missile tests; another may be capitulation on essential matters concerning our security. That does not matter, just as long as this Prime Minister can hold on to office for a little longer.

What will we have? We will have a contrived summit. We will have two, three or four days when carefully selected individuals will be called together to consider a package that has been worked out beforehand. We know very well that the Government is going to set the agenda and select the invitees in such a way that, regardless of how bad the outcome, it will somehow contrive to have a majority for the outcome. We know that in terms of consultation it is worth sweet Fanny Adams.