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Wednesday, 21 June 2000
Page: 17812

Mr ST CLAIR (10:19 AM) —In speaking on the A New Tax System (Tax Administration) Bill (No. 2) 2000 I will take up a couple of points raised by the member for Hotham. He talked about fuel prices, for example. Recently a press release was sent out to all our electorates under the names of the member for Hotham and the member for Batman, giving the fuel prices. It is interesting to have a look at the prices of fuel, because, as we all know, they have fluctuated rather dramatically. He mentioned prices of 95c and 93.9c a litre. Certainly in my electorate of New England that is the sort of pricing we have at the moment. Some prices go up to 99.9c and some have been as low as 92.9c. Not long ago in Tamworth, one outlet was selling fuel for 89.9c. It is certainly all over the place; there is no doubt about that. But I would remind honourable members, as I mentioned last night, that the government are reducing the excise on diesel by some 23c to 24c a litre, which is tremendous news for the transport industry.

If we reflect for a moment on the period of time between 1993 and 1996, when the Labor Party were in power, they actually increased petrol excise three times. They increased the fringe benefits tax three times during that same three-year period. They increased company tax. It is very easy to forget that.

Mr ST CLAIR —They increased company tax from 33 per cent, as the member for Paterson would surely know, to 36 per cent, and they increased sales tax on motor vehicles from 16 per cent to 21 per cent. So it is most interesting. Also during his rambling speech the member for Hotham raised the issue of inflation and what effect the new tax system will have on inflation. It was not long ago, about 10 years ago, that I can remember paying 24 per cent, 25 per cent and 26 per cent interest on small business loans. I am certainly honoured to stand here, with 10 days to go—as the member for Hotham mentioned—until a new tax system comes into place on 1 July, and I support the A New Tax System (Tax Administration) Bill (No. 2) 2000.

The bill amends a number of acts. The majority of amendments commence on 1 July 2000, when the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 commences, with the following exceptions: the amendments applicable to fringe benefits tax, schedule 2, part 4, commence on 1 April 2001; the amendments to the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Act 1999, items 2 to 7 of schedule 2, part 1, commence on 1 July 2000 or at a later date on which motor vehicle emission standards are determined under the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Act 1999; and the amendments to the pay-as-you-go withholding system in the Taxation Administration Act 1953, schedule 3, are taken to have commenced on 22 December 1999, the date on which the A New Tax System (Pay As You Go) Act 1999 commenced.

This bill introduces a uniform administrative penalty regime for all taxation laws. The bill also streamlines the criminal penalties payable for comparable taxation offences contained in a number of separate taxation laws, such as failure to keep records or failure to lodge a return. I have noticed in my electorate—and I know that members of both sides of the House will have seen this—the increased attention small business is paying to the way they keep their records. I think that is a good thing, as would most members. I have noticed an influx of people in small business saying to me, `I know how I'm going on a monthly basis now, rather than having to leave it until the end of the year.' So there are some very good things. I am not suggesting that it is easy for small business or others, it is not; but neither is staying in business in these particular times. However, there are opportunities being opened up to make life a little simpler for them. The bill makes a large number of minor amendments to the various taxation laws.

The bill is part of a series of measures designed to implement the government's commitment, announced in A New Tax System, to a more cohesive approach to compliance and administration. The bill introduces a uniform administrative penalty regime for all taxation laws, and this is the second phase of a uniform penalties regime. The first phase was the introduction of a uniform general interest charge for all late payments of tax. The third phase, planned for 2000-01, will be the amendment of penalties in line with the recommendations contained in A Tax System Redesigned. The regime is modelled on the provisions currently contained in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936. The new regime will be contained in the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and will apply to all taxation laws. Consequently, provisions in a number of taxation laws which currently provide for administrative penalties are repealed by the bill.

The bill also amends the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999 to limit public access to details contained in the Australian Business Register. Under existing law, state, territory and local government bodies are able to obtain sufficient ABN information through public access to the Australian Business Register to carry out their functions. However, the amendments to limit public access would severely restrict the information that state, territory and local governments could obtain. Therefore the amendments also enable state, territory and local government bodies to access ABN information in the same way as the Commonwealth accesses ABN information.

The amendments are intended to ensure that full Australian Business Register records are available only for authorised government purposes, with the public having access only to the limited information currently available on the business entry point web site. I have to say that this has been a revelation for a lot of our people in small business in the New England region and elsewhere, who are now starting to get the hang of how the various web sites work. Those web sites for the Australian Taxation Office have been working exceptionally well. As I mentioned, there is limited information currently available on that business entry point web site, which is a subset of the Australian Business Register.

The introduction of uniform administrative penalties and standardised criminal penalties for breach of all taxation laws is to be welcomed and will lead to greater simplicity in the complex field of tax administration. The only concern of substance raised in the bill is that lawyers and accounting professionals who are not registered as tax agents will not be able to prepare and lodge documents or deal with the commission on behalf of clients. These restrictions already apply and are accepted in the field of income tax. Lawyers will still be able to give legal advice on taxation laws. They will still be able to prepare objections to tax assessments and act for a taxpayer in litigation or other proceedings. It is questionable whether the preparation and lodgment of taxation documents are services commonly provided by lawyers. In any event, lawyers and accountants desiring to provide these services can always apply for registration as tax agents, provided they have the necessary experience in these tax matters. I commend the bill to the House.