What’s the significance of this scene?

Signing of the magna carta

Over 800 years ago the Magna Carta was sealed.

It was a time when the people of England were struggling for justice and freedom. For years they fought for fairness and equality- and in 1215 they found a way. A peace treaty, now called the Magna Carta, was made between the barons and the King ensuring, among many things:

  • all people, including those in power, were treated equally under the law;
  • fair and prompt trials;
  • access to independent and impartial justice.

This peace treaty was not perfect. It originally did not cover all people in England and it was quickly repudiated by the King. However, it provided a vision of justice and freedom grounded in the rule of law that the people of England adopted.

When the First Fleet arrived on the shores of Botany Bay, they also brought this vision. The spirit of the Magna Carta was part of the ‘invisible and inescapable cargo of English law’ that came with Arthur Phillip. The public declaration of the vision for the colony was made on 7th February 1788 at Sydney Cove … This vision of justice and freedom, with its genesis in the Magna Carta and confirmed with the landing of the First Fleet continues within Australia today. [Source: Rule of Law Institute]

Take the Rule of Law test!

In the March Issue of The Tax Reformer, the question asked was “States and Territories tax legislation and tax administration and the Rule of Law. Who cares?” Well, it so happens that every believer in constitutional democracy cares. Government and, in particular, the bureaucracy left unchecked by the Rule of Law will see us living by their tenents.

Last month in the March TTR Issue, there was a list from an article by Gleeson CJ (as he was) entitled Courts and the Rule of Law, Melbourne University, 7 November 2001. Subscribers were (and are) invited to consider them in the context of each of the States and Territories.

That Issue of TTR also showed prominently on the front page the Rule of Law Institute Wheel.

Now, go to the website and swing around that Wheel one by one, clicking on each of the segments for details on each. For example, click on:

  • “No Retrospective Laws Should be Made”. The Wheel then tells us: “Retrospective laws are laws that change what people’s rights and responsibilities were in the past. In other words, they are laws that are passed today that change what was legal or illegal yesterday” … and more. Queensland breaches this when an Administrative Arrangement is subsequently, but months later, the subject of an amendment to the Duties Act retrospectively after taxpayers have put commercial transactions in place. How do you untangle them? Who meets the cost? What are the flow on consequences?
  • “The Law is Known and Accessible.” The Wheel then tells us: “The law must be known and predictable so that all people are able to be guided by it and know clearly the consequence of their actions. The laws must also be comprehensible and clear with limited government discretion so that the laws are applied predictably and in a non-arbitrary manner.” … and more. Queensland breaches this when sections like section 124 or 70 are left unamended for years after the QRO knows about the deficiencies. Or when there are changes in assessing practice without any or any adequate advice to taxpayers. Or when a section, containing no discretions, is yet interpreted by the QRO to fit the “policy” behind the section because the section is deficient in its drafting. Or the taxpayer searching the QRO website finds a morass of unhelpful information or decision tress.
  • “Laws Must be Made in an Open and Transparent Way by the People”. The Wheel then tells us: “Laws must be made in an open and transparent way by the people as it gives members of society the right to participate in the creation of laws that regulate their behaviour and govern their actions.” … and more. Queensland breaches this when ex gratia payments are made for the benefit of certain unknown taxpayers, effectively changing the terms of the Act without anyone else knowing about it or being able to take advantage of it. There should be a public register of ex gratia payments. “Open and accountable government” demands it. Another example occurs when there is faux “consultation” on amendments.

QRO fails the test – 3/10 only

Being a generous marker at the time of writing, TTR marks the QRO for adherence to the Rule of Law at 3/10.

That may be harsh and some transgressions may not always happen. But none should ever happen! That’s the point. The score should always be 10/10.

Tell TTR of breaches in your jurisdiction

Subscribers, especially lawyers, are invited to email TTR on breaches of the Rule of Law in their jurisdiction. Only by giving them the power of sunlight will things be changed for the better.

More on the Rule of Law in later Issues of TTR.

Queensland Revenue Office Easter Eggs

Cartoons by Harry Bruce ©

Welcome to the seventh issue of The Tax Reformer.

TTR is delighted at the support received to date. Its correspondents across Australia attest to the value of its establishment. Now taxpayers and advisers have an avenue by which they can bring poorly drafted legislation and poor tax administration to open public attention without going through professional bodies. That is not to say the professional bodies don’t try hard. It’s simply a recognition that they are “commercially” limited in what they can say!