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Tuesday, 25 May 1993
Page: 1252


Senator WATSON (10.16 p.m.) —I seek leave to have my reservation incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The reservation read as follows

SENATOR JOHN WATSON

Senator for Tasmania

Parliamentary Secretary to

Deputy Leader and Shadow Treasurer

2nd Floor AMP Building

46 John Street

PO Box 662

LAUNCESTON 7250

Tel (003) 314544

Fax (003) 315869

19 May 1993

Mr J Carter

Secretary

Estimates Committee D

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Sir,

I refer to the meeting of Estimates Committee D on Thursday May 11 1993 and wish to have the following matter included in the Committee report and reserved for further consideration by the Senate.

Without notice and contrary to past practice in reviewing the Supplementary Estimates of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) within the Department of Treasury, questions about the administration of taxation law were, at the direction of the Minister and the Chairman, not answered by the ATO representatives present, rather I was directed to place such questions on the Senate Notice Paper.

Not only was I not given the courtesy of prior notice of such a change, but the large number of ATO officers present to respond to specific areas, were confused by the unexpected Government move.

Scrutiny by, and accountability to the Parliament is more than money issues. In the case of the ATO that accountability extends to the discharge of responsibility of the Commonwealth Taxation Laws.

I ask that an alternative mechanism be found to facilitate questioning by Senators. If the Government intention to restrict questioning is to prevail, such actions in limiting scrutiny is not in the best interests of a public image of the ATO.

Senators are entitled to an assurance from the Government that such a containment of questioning as occurred during the Supplementary estimates, will not be repeated, curtailing the Senate's examination of the Annual Estimates.

The Senate needs a formal opportunity to raise questions on such contentious matters as:

(a)ambit claims

(b)simultaneous raids on prominent sports people at 6.30 am

(c)harassment by tax auditors, and

(d)statements by ministers and senior taxation officials which are in conflict with later released determinations and rulings

Yours sincerely,

JOHN WATSON

Senator for Tasmania


Senator WATSON —I thank the committee. I wish to add to that reservation. Subsequently, on Friday, 21 May 1993, the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Senator John Coates, arranged for the committee to meet with officers of the Australian Taxation Office to respond to the technical issues associated with the administration of taxation law in Australia. Unlike the Hansard report of the Senate estimates committee hearings, the proceedings of the committee are not distributed as a Senate Hansard but are limited in their distribution in an A4-type format. Therefore, I ask that listeners to this broadcast and readers of the Senate Hansard who have an interest in these issues contact the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Mr Peter Hamburger, to obtain a copy of the proceedings.

  The limitation of the distribution of the answers from the various Senate estimates committees obviously limits the benefits of these inquiries in their new format. The purpose of the inquiries that the Senate estimates committees carry out can be properly fulfilled only if the dissemination of the information elicited from the hearings is sufficiently widespread.

  We note that in the past the ATO has stated that it will abide by the answers given in the Senate estimates committee hearings—the Senate estimates hearings have a certain status—particularly those answers which are responses to questions on notice. Could these sorts of answers be expressed in the form of rulings? If they have that sort of status, they probably have a status at least equivalent to that of rulings. So we do have a problem.

  I follow up that question by asking: what is the status of the answers given in the new format that we temporarily adopted the other day in referring questions to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration rather than any formal Senate estimates procedures? For example, are the answers given and do they have the same status as those given to a Senate estimates committee?