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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1651

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(3.50) —We have seen here this afternoon not so much a re-run of the attack on me as a talent quest for the Opposition. We have seen the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) create an opportunity to display his parliamentary prowess. He wanted to get into the act because he was embarrassed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), the would-be Leader of the Liberal Party and the person who will be the Leader of the Liberal Party within, say, 12 months, had apparently stolen the thunder and had apparently been able mortally to wound the Government and me. So the Leader of the Opposition, not to be outdone, had to demonstrate today in a most courageous way that he was the true Leader of the Liberal Party and he was not going to be overshadowed by his deputy! In fact even that has failed as well because anybody who has listened to the last two speeches in this place can tell who will be the Leader of the Opposition within about 12 months.

The Leader of the Opposition will regret as long as he tries to make this place a forum for the contest between him and his deputy that he will lose out on every occasion. Of course, yesterday and today will go down in history as the watershed of the Peacock leadership. From now on it is all downhill. That is why this issue was raised again today. It is not about me. It is not about my misleading the Parliament. It has nothing to do with me at all. The Government has at every opportunity allowed the Opposition unlimited time to develop its claims and its allegations, to produce the evidence and to allege the misconduct or whatever as far as I am concerned. On the first occasion the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) was given a full hour by leave to go through a rambling, interesting, highly manufactured, highly coloured and made-up history of what was involved in the affair.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister for Finance will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were heard in relative silence. I suggest that in an important debate such as this the same courtesy be extended to the Minister.

Mr DAWKINS —The honourable member for O'Connor had unlimited time to develop his case, a case which fell to the ground entirely. Yesterday afternoon the Opposition took up the entire Question Time with questions to me and to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on this matter. Last night the Opposition was provided with the opportunity to move a substantive motion, which it decided to move, condemning me. Again today the Opposition has had the opportunity to move this motion, and again today we have heard nothing new. We have heard no substantiation of the facts. We have just had a string of allegations, a string of claims, a string of abuse at me and a string of absolute lies as far as I am concerned.

The basis of the motion today is that I misled the House in my answer to the honourable member for O'Connor yesterday. The honourable member for O'Connor asked me whether I had been involved in any way with bottom of the harbour transactions. I said no, which is absolutely the truth. If honourable members opposite do not believe me, why do they not believe the Deputy Leader of the Opposition? Last night he said:

I move this motion not because I wish to allege that on the evidence available to this House the Minister for Finance, or indeed any member of his family, has been guilty, of an illegality, nor do I believe on the evidence that is so far available to this House that the Minister for Finance or any member of his family had been guilty of tax evasion.

So the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not claim last night that I was associated in any way with tax evasion or bottom of the harbour activities. Of course the Opposition now claims that I am, but no new evidence has been produced in the two long and rambling speeches we heard from the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy. We heard a re-run of what we heard last night. I have been waiting breathlessly for the Opposition to come up with some new allegations, some new claims or some new evidence. Of course, it cannot do so because there are none. Members of the Opposition know as well as I do that the whole of their case is an absolute charade.

They say that, at a time when I was a director of a company, that company had 600 shares in what was then a highly reputable Western Australian public company , one of the biggest public companies in Western Australia. We, along with hundreds and thousands of others in Western Australia, held shares in Metro Industries Ltd. Members of the Opposition then say that, because we sold the shares about two weeks after the directors of Metro Industries sent one of the subsidiaries of that company to the bottom of the harbour and in so doing avoided payment of about $5m in tax, that associates me in some way with bottom of the harbour activity. Of course that defies all logic; it defies the law. It is just an indication of the desperation of members of the Opposition to try to ensnare me in some illegal practice or some impropriety. Of course they would love to be able to prove that. They would love to be able to prove that I was involved.

The fact that they have had to base their case on this flimsy and inaccurate evidence is simply a measure of their desperation. I suppose it is flattering in a way that they would devote so much attention to me. I suspect it is because they know, and particularly the people in Western Australia know, that we in Opposition were able to prove effectively beyond any doubt, not on the basis of specious allegations in this House or by scurrying around looking at company records ourselves but on the basis of evidence produced by public inquiries such as the McCabe-Lafranchi inquiry and the Costigan Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, that tax avoidance went right to the corrupt heart of the Liberal Party in Western Australia. That is what they have not got over and that is what the Liberal Party in Western Australia will never get over. The fact that I had a role in that is something of which I am deeply proud, and I do not resile from it in any way at all.

The Opposition is trying to say that, because our company is on a list of shareholders who had shares on 31 December 1976, I am involved in a bottom of the harbour activity.

Mr Howard —That is your standard.

Mr DAWKINS —Let us look at what my standards were last year. My standards last year were simply this: If someone who was a director of a company which had dealings with--

Mr Howard —No.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had 15 minutes in which to speak . I suggest he give the Minister for Finance a chance. I have been very tolerant . I call the Minister.

Mr DAWKINS —So have I, Mr Speaker; extremely tolerant. I have been through this day after day, hoping for some new evidence. What I said last year and what I have maintained this year is that a director of a company which had dealings with a bottom of the harbour operator who was responsible for a transaction which meant that shares in the company were sold at a price which reflected the non-payment of company tax was guilty of participating in a bottom of the harbour activity. On the other hand, I did not say that shareholders who just happened to sell shares and receive that inflated price for the shares were guilty of tax dodging. I said that, if they received a benefit, they ought to pay back the money. That is still my position. It is not a question of guilt or innocence; it is a question of whether or not someone derives a benefit. On my standards, which apparently, have become the new acid test on the part of the Opposition, of course, not only did we not derive a benefit; in fact we derived a loss. Let me quote again what the Commissioner of Taxation said:

Any approach from the Taxation Office to those who were owners of Metro Industries at the relevant time would be in the form of recoupment tax assessments, made after consideration had, on the basis of available information , been given to the law and to the relieving provisions that are contained in it . In particular, there would be a question whether, on the ground that the particular person enjoyed no benefit at all from the evasion, the discretionary power under sub-section 6 (18) to provide complete relief from recoupment tax should be exercised.

Not only has the company not yet received an assessment, but it may never receive an assessment. Indeed, even if it did receive an assessment, it may not have a liability when that particular clause is invoked by the Commissioner. As to why I did not reveal the fact that the assessments had gone out, the fact of the matter is that they have not gone out. A representative group of shareholders has been advised and given an information paper and the tax commissioner is in the process of moving towards the issue of tax assessments in relation to that matter.

Why did I know about the affairs of Metro Industries? Because an aggrieved Metro Industries shareholder came to see me in my electorate office a couple of weeks ago and told me about his particular circumstances and the distress that was being caused to hundreds of shareholders in Metro Industries who had held their shares for years, who had seen the shares rocket up to $4 and had been left holding them now that they are valued at about $1.20. The reason for that particular exercise was that Denis Byrne Horgan, the former Finance Director of the Liberal Party in Western Australia, had quit his shares at about $4 and had left all the other shareholders with the responsibility to pay the tax bill that he should have paid.

I have been through all of this before. I do not want to go through it all again because there is no point. But let me say-honourable members opposite should listen to this very carefully-that what this is really all about is that members of the Opposition hope that by this campaign they can scare us off in our intention and our determination to have a proper register of pecuniary interests. One of the reasons why they do not want a register of pecuniary interests is what it might reveal in relation to their affairs. I have been perfectly open and frank. There has been full disclosure in relation to my activities, as there always will be. I wonder whether members of the Opposition have seen a cheque form which was tabled in the Senate today by my colleague the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh). The cheque form is signed by one Christo Moll. What is the name on the cheque butt? Crichton-Browne! Is this another piece of evidence which will demonstrate that tax evasion in Western Australia and involvement in bottom of the harbour schemes, the whole lot, goes right to the heart of the Liberal Party in Western Australia? How many ill- gotten funds that were deprived from revenue have found their way into Liberal Party coffers? That is what we want to know and that is why the Opposition is determined not to have a register of pecuniary interests.