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Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Page: 3774

Senator WALSH (Minister for Resources and Energy)(4.42) —Mr Chairman, I make some general comments on the clauses before the Committee. The last vote effectively sealed the fate of the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Assessment Bill. The Government will not accept that amendment in the House of Representatives and I do not think that too much more time of the Committee should be taken up in dealing with it. I do want to make a couple of points which demonstrate how little interest the Opposition actually had in what this Bill would do. The Opposition was determined, for reasons which it still does not feel under any obligation to explain, to preserve section 3 (12) of the principal Act. That has been the determinant of the Opposition's policy in respect of this Bill.

Clause 4 does provide for publication of the names of tax evaders, as Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle said, and it also allows the Commissioner of Taxation to refund, with interest, payments of assessments where an excess assessment has been issued. Clause 4 of this Bill, which the Opposition opposes, empowers the Commissioner to return to taxpayers tax for which they should not have been assessed in the first place, and to return it with interest. Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle reversed the meaning of that clause. I do not know why she did that, but it does reveal how little interest the Opposition actually has in the Bill. A simple inquiry to the office of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) or a direct inquiry to the Australian Taxation Office would have shown the Opposition that the latter part of clause 4, which it is going to oppose, does in fact do the opposite to that which Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle believes, or at least said, that it does.

I could go on with explanations about the effects of a number of other clauses, but at this stage I do not think it is terribly important. However, I do believe it should be noted for the record that three Australian Democrat senators effectively voted against this Bill by voting against the deletion of section 3 (12) of the principal Act. Those three Democrats voted in similar fashion throughout last year and this year on the ground that they were absolutely opposed to retrospective legislaton. Whether or not one agrees with that view, it has been consistently held and they have voted accordingly. Of the other two Democrats who voted for section 3 (12), Senator Evans was not here last year but Senator Mason was and effectively he voted the same as he voted last year. He too has been consistent. Clearly, the great majority of the members of the official Opposition, however, have no objection in principle to retrospective legislation because they passed an Act with retrospective effect-the principal Act which we are seeking to amend now. They do not have that cop-out. They have not responded to my invitation to explain why they have supported the retention of section 3 (12) of the princpal Act.

Senator Cook —They have no shame.

Senator WALSH —No, they have no shame. Nor have they disputed the facts as I have presented them. Senator Harradine also voted to retain 3 (12). He also voted in favour of the proposition that the liability to pay tax will be determined by the actions of other people, over which the taxpayer has no control and of which necessarily he has no knowledge. That is the proposition for which Senator Harradine and all the members of the Opposition voted, and for which the three Democrats voted but for different reasons. But last year, when from opposition I moved the same amendment to delete 3 (12) from what is now the principal Act, Senator Harradine voted for that motion. As a result of that vote , the Commonwealth will lose approximately $15m in revenue this financial year and $40m ultimately. Senator Harradine voted today in the opposite way to the way he voted last year. Not only did he do that, but also he has clearly not felt obliged to give any explanation to the Committee or the electors of Tasmania as to why he did it. The facts show that Senator Harradine voted to delete section 3 (12) from what is not the principal Act at a time when his vote was not crucial, but 10 minutes ago, when his vote was crucial, he voted in the opposite direction. He voted for the tax evaders. He voted-bear in mind that he voted in the opposite way to the way he voted last year-for the proposition that the liability to pay or not pay tax will be determined not by the actions of the taxpayers or potential taxpayer but by the actions of other people over which the taxpayer has no control and of which necessarily the taxpayer has no knowledge. As a result of his voting in that way, in the opposite way to the way he voted last year, and without giving any explanation as to why he has reversed his vote, the revenue will lose $15m this year and $40m ultimately.

Finally, Mr Chairman, I do not intend to call any more divisions on this legislation. The Government will formally vote in favour of the remaining clauses of the Bill and will oppose Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle's amendment. As the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, said 10 or 15 minutes ago, this Bill is now effectively dead because the Government in the House of Representatives will not accept the amendment which has just been passed.