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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1656

Mr KEATING (Treasurer)(4.19) —Today the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) proposed this mealy-mouthed proposition as part of an attempt, as the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) said, to distinguish himself in this debate. In fact, over the last few months he has been singularly undistinguished in terms of his capacity to lead the Opposition, let alone mount any parliamentary attack. But the weakness of this proposition-it cannot be defended and will be absolutely rejected by the Government-is his suggestion that the Minister for Finance was involved in bottom of the harbour practices. That is the charge he makes. In fact at no stage was the Minister for Finance involved or known to be involved in tax avoidance, in bottom of the harbour practices or in any procedure associated with tax avoidance. He had no knowledge of any tax avoidance procedure being undertaken by Metro Industries Ltd. This is the essential point and one which, of course, the Leader of the Opposition, in his attempt to make as much political capital out of it as possible, overlooks. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to attack the reputation and integrity of the Minister for Finance on the basis that in some way he was involved in tax avoidance procedures.

Mr Peacock —They certainly set him as a liar.

Mr KEATING —The Leader of the Opposition says the Minister for Finance is a liar on the basis of the question asked by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) about whether the Minister was involved in tax avoidance bottom of the harbour transactions. The Minister replied in the appropriate terms. For that, of course, he now has to suffer the indignity of the charges which the Leader of the Opposition has levelled against him. In fact the truth is that the Minister sold his shares and appears unlikely to have benefited in any way from doing so. It is possible that when the Commissioner of Taxation comes to assess the company with which the Minister was involved-if he comes to assess it indeed- there is every likelihood that he will receive no benefit from that transaction. Under the discretion which the Commissioner is able to exercise no tax will actually be levied upon the Minister under the law. Yet, in fact that has all been overlooked by the Leader of the Opposition in his frenzy to try to attack and besmirch the record of the Minister for Finance in respect of tax avoidance. Let us be clear about it. The Minister has an unblemished record in the Parliament in his condemnation of tax avoidance-

Mr Howard —Ha!

Mr KEATING —That is much more than can be said for the honourable member for Bennelong. When the Minister for Finance had responsibility for tax he introduced legislation into this House which is now being held up in the Senate by members of the Opposition, who are now painting themselves as some sort of paragons of virtue on tax avoidance, when in fact they are now holding up legislation which the Minister for Finance in this Government was the first to introduce. In a couple of weeks of his becoming Minister for Finance, he was clear and concise and moved expeditiously to close up these two vital matters of tax avoidance-bottom of the harbour schemes and trust stripping. Honourable members should contrast that with the record of the former Treasurer in respect of tax avoidance.

The other point which I think has to be made is that there was no attempt by the Minister for Finance to evade any obligation which was imposed on him by the Taxation Commissioner. So indeed if no benefit is received and if, indeed, under the discretion which the Commissioner can exercise no assessment is raised against the Minister, of course all of these hollow charges which are being made will fall to the ground. If indeed there was an assessment the Minister has made it clear that he will honour that obligation. That is more than can be said about the people associated with members of the Opposition.

The most galling thing about this is the double standards applied by the Opposition. The Opposition parties have decided not to disclose their pecuniary interests. There is no way they will be examined. There is no way their personal affairs will be looked at. They have been smothering for years. There is no way they will come clean-

Mr Peacock —Where is the Prime Minister?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! I ask the Treasurer to resume his seat. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to co-operate with the Chair and to set an example to his colleagues. There are far too many interjections. The Treasurer is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr KEATING —In regard to double standards, one had to have a laugh when the honourable member for Bennelong, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, talked about misleading anybody, about misleading the Parliament. He misled the nation in the critical week of the 1983 election campaign. When he was told that we would have a Budget deficit of $9.6 billion he ratted on the public interest by shutting up about it, lest he thought his own miserable party would take an even bigger trouncing than it in fact took at the election. Members of the Opposition should not talk to us about the double standards, with some sort of sanitised lily white complexion, and about how in fact they are the paragons of virtue when it comes to standards. In fact, in terms of double standards, there is no person in the Parliament who could less likely point a finger at anybody than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when in fact he was caught out not by the Parliament but by the nation at large. Of course, the reason why his star is now hiding under a bushel is simply the fact which will hang over his head for time immemorial-the fact that he misled the nation, not any parliament-about the question of tax avoidance. It is nonsense to suggest that the characters on the other side of the Parliament could point the bone about anything concerning tax avoidance. In fact, when we look at the former Treasurer's record on tax avoidance--

Mr Peacock —When are you going to defend the Minister?

Mr KEATING —I do not have to defend the Minister's record on tax avoidance. It is beyond defence. He introduced legislation you are now opposing. How dare you people oppose it! You are opposing his legislation and at the same time you are trying to mount an attack on him saying that in some way he is soft on tax avoidance.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I remind the Treasurer that his obligation is to address the Chair. If he speaks directly to honourable members opposite he will be inciting interjection.

Mr KEATING —I understand. Members of the Opposition, particulary the honourable member for Bennelong, are in no position to talk about anybody's record on tax avoidance when the honourable member for Bennelong sat on his hands for two and a half years and let the biggest tax scandal in the history of our federation blossom. When we saw the first McCabe-Lafranchi report start to reveal the morass of tax avoidance what did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition say when he was Treasurer? He said that it was a political stunt by the Victorian Premier, Mr Cain. He said:

The Victorian Premier, Mr Cain, is merely seeking to use the tax avoidance issue for political profit.

When the report of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union finally was published, after his Party , of course, commissioned Mr Costigan to try to trip up the Australian Labor Party with the criminal activities of the Painters and Dockers Union, he found, in fact, that all of the establishment figures who sit on the councils of his party were caught up with in it. What did he do then? He retired behind what are called the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act to excuse the fact that he was being written to by the Commissioner of Taxation for two and a half years complaining about the fact that the Government was immobile in dealing with bottom of the harbour practices. Finally he was exposed by Commissioner O'Reilly who published what is now the famous telephone book of letters--

Mr Peacock —He won't address the lie.

Mr Howard —He won't address the subject.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Honourable members on my left will cease interjecting.

Mr Peacock —What has this to do with the Minister?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting. The honourable member for Bennelong has been asked to comply with the ruling of the Chair on a number of occasions this morning. I ask him to cease interjecting.

Mr KEATING —The honourable member for Bennelong made it quite clear that he did not want to become the Peter Rae of the 1980s. There was no way that he was going to attack the rotten borough practices of the coalition parties. There was no way he was going to become the Peter Rae of the 1980s. Peter Rae was ostracised and denied ministerial rank because of his involvement in the inquiry into stock exchange practices.

The honourable member for Bennelong, who was speaking here today as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was pointing the bone at a Minister on this side of the Parliament about double standards when he in fact allowed the tax avoidance industry in this country to flourish because he decided to protect his own reputation, that of his party and his career prospects by not attacking it. Two and a half years later, after O'Reilly was tired of having the charge levelled against him that this was his responsibility, the letters exposing the duplicity of the honourable member for Bennelong and the former right honourable member for Wannon were finally published. Honourable members who sat in the Cabinet are as guilty as anybody else. All Opposition members who sat in that Cabinet for years-I can point them out to the House now-watched tax avoidance practices go on. They should not get up here lecturing us when we have a Bill in the Senate that the Opposition can vote on today. The Opposition should vote today on that legislation in the Senate and show us how strong it is on tax avoidance. Will they vote for recoupment legislation? No, they will not. They will not because they are basically a bunch of tax cheats who supported tax cheating for years. Now they see a crack of light leading to a position from which they can try to attack and besmirch the reputation of an innocent man whose record on tax avoidance is beyond reproach.

We will have nothing of the double standards of the members of the Opposition who will not reveal their own pecuniary interests. They have, over the years, proven themselves soft on tax avoidance. In fact, to this day they are not prepared to repent of their sins of omission and commission with respect to tax avoidance. Indeed, when one combs through their shabby record in the growth of the tax avoidance industry, it is just a joke that this motion should be proposed by the Leader of the Opposition today.

Let me go back to the substantial issues at large. The Minister for Finance has not been involved in bottom of the harbour practices. He knew nothing of the procedures by Metro Industries Ltd in bottom of the harbour practices. There is doubt that any benefit at all has accrued to him. If no benefit has accrued to him under the discretion which operates in respect of the Tax Commissioner under the Act, the likelihood will then be that no assessment will be found against him. He made it quite clear that, if indeed one had been found against him, he would meet that obligation. He has, in every respect, been in a position where he has not been involved in any tax avoidance practices. We find it a joke for the Leader of the Opposition to get up here and imply today in this mealy- mouthed fashion that in some way the Minister has failed to respond to Parliament adequately when honourable members opposite filibustered and lied for years about tax avoidance. We will treat the Opposition's motion with the contempt which it deserves by voting against it. On that note, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Original question put:

That the motion (Mr Peacock's) be agreed to.