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Thursday, 18 November 1993
Page: 3149

Senator McMULLAN (Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services) (3.08 p.m.) —I listened with great interest for the advocacy of that part of the Joint Committee of Public Account's report which related to the unwarranted attack on Mr Boucher, which was repudiated by all of Senator Bishop's colleagues, but I did not hear a word. I waited for a denial of the fact that in this place on a previous occasion she asked me to disclose the tax affairs of a citizen, and I refused.

Senator Bishop —That's Mr Wright, is it?

Senator McMULLAN —No, it is not. It does not matter who it was; it was something which I refused to do and Senator Bishop knew I would have to refuse to do it. With regard to Mr Wright, I have no intention of inquiring into, let alone disclosing—I do not even wish to know what the circumstances are with regard to businesses with which he is now, and may previously have been, associated—how he developed a tax debt, what the circumstances are or anything that arose. It is entirely inappropriate for the parliament to inquire into that, as everybody knows. It is not appropriate to attack the privacy rights of citizens. It is a serious slur, but it is exactly what one would expect.

   One would have expected a more ringing response to those things that were said. I was a little surprised to hear such a lame explanation from Senator Bishop. There is plenty of opportunity, and I will welcome it, to debate any issues of tax policy such as those to which she alluded and about which she has made comments in other media—about abolishing the capital gains tax, the absence of which was, of course, at the very heart of the tax avoidance industry of the 1970s.

Senator Bishop —Then get some measures in place to measure it; qualified accounts.

Senator McMULLAN —That is a different question. If I get time, I would be delighted to respond to that. The issue is: what is the nature of the society that we will go to if capital gains tax is abolished again? We would have two different sorts of income: income earned by ordinary Australian workers, about whom Senator Boswell was so concerned, which is taxed on every dollar; and income which is otherwise earned, predominantly by those more affluent in our society, which is not taxed. That is not the basis of an equitable tax system. It also opens enormous loopholes for tax avoidance, as it was pre-1983 when the principal mechanism for tax avoidance was transferring income into capital. We have here an advocacy of going back to the bad old days. It would open the tax system to abuse.

Senator Bishop —What about Mr Wright?

Senator McMULLAN —I have dealt with that. It would, in its policy implications, be profoundly unfair. This builds upon this consistent pattern of allegation of preferred treatment which all her colleagues have repudiated. They said, `You have sought to make allegations that people got preferred treatment without any evidence at all that anybody has got preferred treatment'. The implication is that there are some people in the tax office who are acting improperly. There is a slur. All these people are just slurred in the hope that Senator Bishop can make a political attack on Mr Wright and maybe on me. This is not a serious issue about which I am losing any sleep but it may be that someone else is.

  It is entirely unfair to seek to raise questions as though the tax officers had any capacity freely to answer questions about tax affairs. Second Commissioner Nolan has made clear the difficulties which he has with regard to that matter on the record in the estimates committee hearings. I respect Mr Nolan and I know Senator Bishop—whatever her other criticisms are—has said she also respects him. He has put the nature of the problem adequately on the record. What we have here is the continuing attempt to do two things: to reduce the equity of the tax system and take it back to the bad old days; and to use the privilege of the parliament and the knowledge that there are secrecy provisions in the tax act to slur the reputation of individuals under the cover of privilege, while failing to give any evidence at any stage to support those unreasonable allegations.