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Wednesday, 27 October 1993
Page: 2611

Senator WATSON —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to the industrial action by staff in certain Australian taxation offices in banning the banking of taxpayers' cheques for payment of taxation liabilities. What taxation offices are involved? What is the value of cheques held but not banked arising from the dispute? Will taxpayers be exposed to late payment additional tax and penalty interest pursuant to sections 207 and 207A of the Income Tax Assessment Act penalty as a consequence of the non-presentation of the taxpayers' cheques? What steps has the government taken to resolve the dispute?

Senator McMULLAN —The advice I have is that slightly more than half the branches of the Tax Office are involved in this dispute and slightly less than half are not. I do not have the exact numbers. Obviously if taxpayers are thinking of going to their local Tax Office branch for any business reason, they should consult it as to whether any of the limitations that have been imposed are applying.

  The important question that Senator Watson raises is whether there are likely to be additional taxes or penalties on taxpayers. That is, I think, the key issue of concern. I know there was some media speculation that there might be. The situation is that there will not be a fine for late payment imposed upon people because of any activity caused by the industrial dispute. Of course, if an individual thinks that he or she can to use the cover of this industrial dispute to make payments late, then the normal procedures will apply.

Senator Panizza —How do you know? How will you know whether it is late or not?

Senator McMULLAN —It is not difficult to pursue. As I understand it at the moment, the bans are not applying to the registration of money that comes in, merely to its processing and banking. My advice is that we are aware of the time that material comes in. Of course, most does not come in over the counter these days; most come in directly by electronic transfer, and that is not affected. But I understand that the normal recording processes when the money is received are operating. The bans are being directed at the government, rather than at the taxpayers, and they are, therefore, slowing the process of banking. But the trigger mechanism for taxpayers is not when the money is banked but when it is received, the recording of which, I understand, is continuing to operate.

  The question of dealing with the dispute is not Tax Office specific but is being dealt with by the government in concert with the broader Public Sector Union discussions that are going on. The Minister for Industrial Relations and the Minister for Finance are continuing to hold discussions with the PSU in pursuit of a settlement of the matter. As Senator Watson would also know, the matter has been before the Industrial Relations Commission seeking its assistance in the settlement of the dispute. We will continue to seek to settle it.

Senator WATSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In relation to the response that taxpayers should make inquiries as to which offices the dispute is affecting, what was the significance of that comment? Does the dispute extend to other than the banking of taxpayers' moneys?

Senator McMULLAN —All I was trying to say was that some offices are attempting to restrict direct service to clients to the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I was merely advising people that if they wish to avoid inconvenience, they should contact the office to make sure that the service they want to take advantage of is available. In most instances, it will be.