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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1869


Senator DURACK(4.18) —I rise in the adjournment debate because of a misrepresentation by Senator Walsh at Question Time today in relation to inquiries I had been making from the office of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) in relation to the alleged establishment of an inquiry by the Government into the taxation of gold. I am taking the opportunity of raising this matter on the adjournment simply to have it on the record, but it is really in essence a personal explanation. The position is that after the Treasurer had brought down his tax statement on the so-called tax package on 19 September I noted it contained a statement that the Government would not, at this stage, proceed with the White Paper proposal to tax gold. It stated that the Government had established an inquiry to consider this matter and that that inquiry would be reporting in the first half of 1986. Of course, that would be very convenient to attempt to defuse this issue in Western Australia before the State election which will certainly be held early in 1986.

One of my staff made inquiries from the Treasury in relation to this statement that a gold tax inquiry had been established and learned that it had not been established as far as the Treasury officer to whom he spoke was aware. When the Senate resumed for its two-week sitting period in October I asked Senator Walsh on two occasions about this inquiry. Instead of receiving an answer to my questions I received the abuse which Senator Walsh gives in answering so many questions, particularly those which relate to Western Australian issues.

As a result of the strange conduct by Senator Walsh, I thought I may have been able to obtain some further information about this matter from the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, who presumably has a passing interest in the gold mining industry. The question I decided to ask Senator Evans was, I am sure, very truthfully answered by him. At least he made an attempt to answer it with such information as he had. Senator Evans's answer clearly indicated that the inquiry had not been established, despite the statement of the Treasurer and statements that had been made by Senator Walsh to that effect in the tirades I received from him in answer to the questions I have just mentioned. Senator Evans indicated that, in fact, he had seen a recommendation from the Treasurer to the Prime Minister about the personnel for that inquiry and he thought it would be processed in the near future and that therefore the inquiry was still in the process of being established. He could not tell us anything about the inquiry's terms of reference.

Earlier this week-on Tuesday, 5 November-the member of my staff who had made earlier inquiries spoke to a staffer of the Treasurer in the Treasurer's private office and asked again about the progress in the establishment of this inquiry. He was advised by one of the Treasurer's staff that recommendations on the proposed membership of the inquiry had been made, that confirmation was delayed pending conflict of interest inquiries and that the terms of reference of the inquiry had been finalised. Quite properly, he did not tell my staff member what the terms of reference were, what the proposed membership was or what was the problem involving conflict of interest, if that was the case. That is the only further information I have received.

Senator Walsh has attempted to indicate that I have been given answers to all the questions I asked, which is totally false. As I said, I asked the questions today because in nearly six weeks since the Treasurer's statement I have not been able to get any clear answers about the establishment of this inquiry into the taxing of gold, despite the firm statement by the Treasurer on 19 September that the inquiry had been established. In any event, even if that member of my staff had been told by a member of staff of the Treasurer's office what the terms of reference of the inquiry were, who was on the inquiry, whether it had met and so on-the sorts of questions I have been asking-that is absolutely no reason why Senator Walsh, if he had the information or if the Government had processed the inquiry to that extent, would not be expected to give that answer to the Senate. The fact that it might have been given privately to me is absolutely no reason why it should not be given to the Senate. However, as I said, that is not the fact of the matter. My questions today were a genuine attempt to get information which I have been seeking from Senator Walsh and the Government without success for the past six weeks.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 4.24 p.m.