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Tuesday, 31 August 1993
Page: 641

Senator GARETH EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I take this opportunity to table a legal advice, the subject of which is the constitutionality of the Taxation (Deficit Reduction) Bill, prepared by Mr Dennis Rose QC, Chief General Counsel for the Attorney-General's Department. I seek leave to make a short statement in relation to that advice.

  Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to the Senate. The document makes clear that the bill in the form in which it is now before the Senate is constitutional in accordance with principles which not only have been long applied by parliamentary counsel but also have clear High Court authority. It is not possible to summarise in short compass the detail of this advice and I do not seek to do so, except to make these two points. First of all, it is a bill properly characterised as one `dealing with taxation' and it is also a bill properly characterised as one `dealing with the imposition of taxation'. What it is not is a bill `imposing taxation'. These distinctions are familiar ones in the High Court case law and those points are made clearly by Mr Rose.

  The second point as to the content of the advice is the question as to whether the bill, if passed, would be `a law dealing with more than one subject of taxation'. This question is also addressed in a way that makes it clear that there would be no adverse consequences to flow constitutionally if the bill were to be passed in its present form. The advice must speak for itself, and it does so.

  The advice was prepared in anticipation of the Senate committee inquiry proceeding, but it does reflect in its content the nature of the principles that were applied throughout the drafting exercise by parliamentary counsel and advice given by the Attorney-General's Department during that drafting process.

  The document is tabled as a matter of courtesy rather than obligation to assist the Senate, and in particular the proposed Senate committee in its consideration of the constitutionality of this issue. Hopefully, tabling it now will expedite that process of consideration. I indicate now that we will not be opposing—not that we have much choice in the matter—the reference to the committee. I would expect that to go through formally in a few moments time, without any further debate or seeking leave to make a further contribution, I hasten to add.

  I do take this opportunity, however, finally to indicate that while the government will not be opposing the reference of the whole issue to a Senate committee, and while I am now tabling this 13-page very detailed advice, the government will be opposing the motion, if pursued, requiring us to table drafting instructions and other related documents, notice of which has been given by Senator Hill. The grounds for the government's opposition to this are strong grounds of public interest immunity, and they are ones that the government would certainly insist upon for good reason which, if the occasion arises, I will be happy to spell out. I think it is inappropriate to do so now.