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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2205

Senator JESSOP(10.39) —I have held a very constant view with respect to retrospective taxation measures. I have voted against retrospectivity on every occasion I have been able. It occurs to me that the Commissioner of Taxation was probably negligent in some respects. In my view the laws in existence have not been properly explored and exploited in regard to this question. I noted that in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, Senator Withers, on page 11 of his dissenting report, said this:

Also I am not satisfied that the Commissioner of Taxation has attempted to use the remedies which may be available to him under section 260 of part IVA. In addition if as alleged by some Ministers that fraud is present then such persons ought to be prosecuted either under the taxation laws, the Crimes Act or State laws.

I have mentioned before that tax avoiders or tax evaders ought to have been prosecuted in the past under the existing sections of the Taxation Act or the Companies Act, as there are provisions for that, or under the Crimes Act, as Senator Withers has quite properly pointed out. Nobody on this side of the House would say that he agrees with people avoiding taxation, as those concerned with bottom of the harbour deals were doing, because that means that everyone else in Australia, including us, has to pay more tax. So we do not support tax evasion at all. I believe that there has been negligence over many years, probably since 1970 when the Whitlam Administration first identified the bottom of the harbour tax evasion type of scheme.

Senator Coates —What year?

Senator JESSOP —Since 1970 or 1971. You are the expert on these financial matters; I am not.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will address the Chair.

Senator JESSOP —But I do not like people from the Government side intruding when I am starting to hurt them. The Whitlam Government was culpable and negligent under Attorney-General Murphy, the Attorney-General of the day, in not exploring these measures that were available to it. The Fraser Government did not properly exploit the Acts that were available to it. I suggest that we ought to have a good look at the whole matter. I would like to defer further consideration of this matter until we have all had an opportunity to read the evidence and debate the matter at greater length. I object to going down a path of retrospective laws that deal with this matter. That would open Pandora's box. I am afraid that the Government would then introduce retrospective personal taxation measures. I would not be surprised if it did so, because it is getting into financial chaos which will force it to act desperately. It is now hitting the pensioners. It will deprive pensioners of their lifetime earnings and their capacity to provide for the future, and yet the people who sit opposite just laugh. These measures are going to hurt the small man in Australia.

Senator Walsh —Mr President, I raise a point of order. If the honourable senator has finished, it does not matter, but I was just going to question the relevance of what Senator Jessop was saying to the report of the Committee.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the honourable senator to come back to the matter before the Chair, which is that the Senate take note of the report.

Senator JESSOP —The question of retrospective taxation measures is one of critical importance. I believe that it ought to be enshrined in the Constitution that it is illegal for any government to introduce retrospective taxation measures. I hope that Senator Townley will come forward at some time with a private member's Bill giving some credibility to that suggestion. If he does, I will give him my full support.

Debate (on motion by Senator Walsh) adjourned.