Who Was Consulted?Mr. Nobody?

Mr. Nobody, who was consulted over the Revenue Legislation Bill

In the June/July 2023 Issue No. 21, the Tax Reformer stated:

“In most years [for Queensland], there is a “Revenue Legislation Bill”, or a “Revenue and Other Legislation Bill” (or some such) introduced at the same time [as the Budget]. As has happened in previous years, there was no prior general public review before the Budget Appropriation Acts are introduced. Sometimes, select stakeholders see the Bill and Explanatory Notes before the public does.”

No way for the Revenue Legislation Amendment Act 2023 (RLAA) amendments! On page 15 of the Explanatory Notes under “Consultation”, you get this bizarre statement:

“Community consultation was not undertaken in relation to the amendments in the Bill as they are being implemented as part of the 2023-24 Budget or are technical amendments necessary to ensure the revenue legislation operates as intended or to support tax and royalty administration.”

So, in 2022, there was limited consultation but this year 2023 there was none!

The Queensland Hansard for 13 June 2023, page 1804, records that the RLAA was declared urgent and cognate with the Appropriation Bills. It was not even seen by the Economics and Governance Committee: see page 1804 of Hansard. The RLAA went through the House like Superman – faster than a speeding bullet – and had passed all stages on 16 June 2023: see page 2157 of Hansard. So much for consultation, so much for democracy!

The Explanatory Notes make some reference to the Legislative Standards Act 1992 (LSA) but the Revenue Legislation Amendment Act makes a mockery of the thrust of the intention expressed in section 4 of the LSA.

That intention is clearly stated in section 4 (1):

“For the purposes of this Act, fundamental legislative principles are the principles relating to legislation that underlie a parliamentary democracy based on the rule of law.”

And section 4 (2) then goes on to state:

“The principles [stated in section 4 (1)] include requiring that legislation has sufficient regard to—

(a) rights and liberties of individuals; and
(b) the institution of Parliament.”

And then section 4 (3) (a) states:

“Whether legislation has sufficient regard to rights and liberties of individuals depends on whether, for example, the legislation— …

And then section 4(3) (g) and (k) state:

“(g) does not adversely affect rights and liberties, or impose obligations, retrospectively;
(k) is unambiguous and drafted in a sufficiently clear and precise way.”

So, let’s look at those provisions, bearing in mind also that a fundamental of the ‘rule of law’ requires that the law applies to everyone, regardless of their position or status. To make sure everyone knows the law and their rights, laws should be easy to understand, findable and enforced.

Well, surprise, surprise! The RLAA breaches several of those tenets. For example:

  • laws should be easy to understand, findable and enforced. Several times in the RLAA reference is made to “the revenue legislation operates as intended”. Where can a taxpayer see this intention and whose intention is it? Surely not the hoary old “Parliament’s intention”! Perhaps it’s the QRO’s intention!
  • how does a taxpayer find the law as amended by the RLAA? No education program is promised or, as always, not even foreshadowed. And are any information sheets to be sent out, which you would expect will happen at the least to self-assessors;
  • in several provisions, an obligation is imposed on a taxpayer but, again, how on earth is a taxpayer supposed to know about them. A fair system doesn’t simply state we are all presumed to know the law. That is not fair where education can take place with the large body of self-assessors. They have statutory obligations to get it right. The refund provisions are a good example of this. An informed taxpayer is a compliant taxpayer.
  • section 245L is a great piece of drafting – not. It says “This section applies if the commissioner is satisfied the owner of land has entered into an arrangement…” How is that to work when the Act contains “Chapter 11 Avoidance schemes”? Why confuse taxpayers by introducing that section?
  • section 245I (2) enables a taxpayer to get a ruling which appears to be a welcome policy shift by the QRO, which it has always been reluctant to do, to say the least. Section 245L provides the Commissioner with clawback powers. The provisions are vague. Remember the vague provisions of Public Ruling DA000.1.3, which states that the Commissioner will give a ruling if the word “satisfied” or its cognates are used in a section. That would not apply where there is a statutory provision for a ruling. But how does section 245L (1) work with section 245M?

The Tax Reformer calls for the Queensland Revenue Office (QRO) to get wide public feedback now on the provisions of the RLAA and not to override deficiencies in the RLAA by simply issuing a ruling reflecting the QRO’s “intent”. If a ruling has to be issued, then it shows that the RLAA was hurried through Parliament to the detriment of the requirements of the LSA section 4 (3) (k).

Don’t hold your breath. Castle Siege has been rebuilt!

A satirical cartoon depicting the Queensland Revenue Officer