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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2201

Senator JACK EVANS(10.15) —I endorse the suggestion of Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle that this debate should be a cognate debate with the consideration of the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1984 and therefore my comments will be very brief. I believe that the reference to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations has been proven to be totally justified. The vindication comes about as a result of the discussions of the Committee with representatives of the Australian Taxation Office and deliberations of the Committee on what measures were available, and have been available for many years, to the Commissioner of Taxation. In the opinion of many honourable senators, these should have been applied and pressure should have been applied to the Taxation Commissioner by successive Treasurers. That point needs to be stressed as well. The onus does not rest entirely with the Commissioner.

It must be clearly understood that the body of the report has the support of the Committee. But it must be equally understood that three members of the six- person Committee would not support the recommendation that the retrospective application of this legislation is relevant at this stage. In a sense the minority members are saying that there is still not sufficient evidence, simply because the matter has not been pursued adequately through the courts yet, to justify having this retrospective legislation at this time. The purpose of my minority report and recommendation No. 2 is to give the Senate the opportunity to have proven for it the viability of existing laws to collect the taxes that have been avoided under schemes under section 23F of the Income Tax Assessment Act.

If in 12 months time it has been proven conclusively that the Taxation Commissioner does not have powers to retrieve the taxes that have been avoided, the Senate must reconsider the position at that time. The Commissioner has indicated that some taxes may have been lost in the interim simply through the funds having been dissipated but I believe it is more important for honourable senators to see justice done in this situation before they take their decision than it is for us to pick up a few dollars that might be lost in the forthcoming 12 months.

My position is that, whilst agreeing with the report and recommendation No. 2, the agreement does not say that there should be no retrospective legislation for the cherry pickers scheme. It says that there should be no retrospective legislation for the next 12 months for the cherry pickers scheme but if, as is believed by many honourable senators, there is existing legislation to cater for this anomaly, steps need to be taken in the meantime through the courts to prove or disprove the viability of that existing legislation.