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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2146

Senator PETER BAUME(12.22) —I raise a matter which is of concern to some of my constituents; namely, the inordinate delays in hearing matters put to taxation boards of review. A case which has been put to me is from a constituent who has been involved in a jojoba plantation. The details do not matter very much. My constituent has gone into a scheme. The Commissioner of Taxation has made a certain determination. The taxpayer feels aggrieved and wishes to have that decision reviewed. It has emerged that 53,000 cases are awaiting review and the review boards are hearing something like 600 to 800 cases a year. On that basis my constituent's case might come up for determination in something like 55 years from now.

On the basis of the old idiom, justice delayed is justice denied, my taxpayer has a real concern. He may or may not have a case of merit. That is not for me to worry about. But he feels that he is in danger of suffering financial disadvantage. Processes are laid down by which he may appeal for review and he is unable to use them. They are blocked off because of such delays. I acknowledge immediately that the situation did not arise just this year. It has built up. However, I suggest to the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) that it may well have worsened in recent years. But, in any event, whatever the cause of the delay may have been and for however long it may have developed, I suggest that it is a very real barrier to justice being done in taxation areas.

In relation to this person we have had communications with the Australian Taxation Office. I am in possession of a letter from the Australian Taxation Office dated 25 September 1985 and addressed to this person, whose name I will not give. The letter states:

Dear Sir,

Income tax: Request for reference to a board of review

Years ended 30 June 1982 and 1983

Reference is made to your recent enquiry to the office of the Hon. Senator Peter Baume requesting further advice concerning your 1982 and 1983 objections.

At the outset it must be advised that, due to heavy workloads in our Appeals and Advisings Branch, it has not yet been possible to give effect to your request to refer the Commissioner's decision on the objections to a Board of Review.

It goes on to explain:

. . . before formal transfer of a reference to a Board of Review it has been the practice for some time to review the decision originally reached on the objection in the light of any additional information which the taxpayer may choose to supply . . .

I interpose that that may be all very well. But a right of review is conferred upon the taxpayer and it should be a right which the taxpayer can, in fact, exercise. The letter goes on to state:

In adopting this course and in fairness to other taxpayers who have also requested a reference to a Board of Review, cases are dealt with in the order in which they are received and it has not yet been possible to give your reference this attention. Some further time must necessarily lapse before this can be done.

It is my understanding that in the meantime the taxpayer is obliged to lodge a significant portion of the money which is under dispute with the Government even before the review is heard. The point I want to make to the Minister-I am not saying that it has arisen as a result of any administrative errors of this Government-is that if, in fact, something over 50,000 cases are awaiting hearing, if, in fact, the number being heard each year is small and if there is going to be a significant delay, taxpayers are not actually able to exercise their rights. It would not really matter if the number actually awaiting review were only 10,000. It would not really matter if the number being disposed of each year were, in fact, double what I have mentioned-maybe not 800 but 1,600-that would still be a five-year delay. Whatever the delay is, it is not fair. I therefore ask the Minister, not why did it occur but what can be done to get prompt hearing of these matters and to get the taxpayers the chance for a prompt exercise of their rights under taxation law?