ATO admits it suspected direction on Bell

On Monday night the Australian Taxation Office made a significant revelation about the Bell Group matter – in March 2016, they suspected George Brandis was about to issue a direction to stop them intervening in the Bell High Court case, and they were so worried that they sought legal advice about how to handle that possibility.

 

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THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL

SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

ATO ADMITS THEY SUSPECTED DIRECTION ON BELL

 

On Monday night the Australian Taxation Office made a significant revelation about the Bell Group matter – in March 2016, they suspected George Brandis was about to issue a direction to stop them intervening in the Bell High Court case, and they were so worried that they sought legal advice about how to handle that possibility.

 

Brandis has previously refused to give direct answers about whether he, or his office, considered trying to stop the ATO intervening in the case.

 

Now, we know the ATO – which wanted to intervene to protect $300 million of Commonwealth revenue – was seriously concerned that he was about to do just that:

 

We had no knowledge of any proposed Attorney-General direction but we did hear, and I think I have given this evidence before as well, bureaucratic whispers that led to speculation on our part that maybe such a direction was being considered.

[Andrew Mills, Second Commissioner, Australian Taxation Office]

 

Let’s be clear about what we have on our hands here – a government department that has been forced to seek independent legal advice on the potential actions of a rogue Attorney-General.

 

It is deeply concerning that the ATO, upon hearing the so-called “bureaucratic whispers” about a potential direction, took them seriously enough to go straight to the Attorney-General’s Department for advice without even seeking to confirm them first.

 

Government departments should not have to fear that they will be stopped from doing what they believe is in the interests of the Commonwealth and the taxpayer by a destructive minister. But this is what we have come to.

 

The net is closing in on Senator Brandis and the Bell Group. The Attorney-General still has many questions to answer about his involvement in this murky affair.

 

Labor will continue to pursue the matter, and ensure this Attorney-General is not allowed to exit the Government front benches without the truth coming out.

 

TUESDAY, 28 MARCH 2017