The curtain came down last
week on one of the most shameful episodes in Australian Public Service history
when the Opposition waved the white flag over the Robert Gerard tax fiasco,
arguably
the biggest and most politically charged episode of tax avoidance in Australian
history.

The heavyweight
Liberal Party donor settled with the ATO without
prosecution and had his tax bill halved after an audit report that apparently
detailed indictable offences including a sham company set up in a Caribbean tax
haven, false records, false statements and hindering tax officers in the
performance of their duties.

The ATO defied its own guidelines by not referring the matter to the
DPP. All this after
former Commissioner of Taxation Michael Carmody provided Gerard with a
letter recommending his promotion to the Reserve Bank Board, that said
he had no personal tax issues.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth DPP Damien Bugg QC washed
his hands of the case when he told a parliamentary
committee
in February that he had no power to direct a
government agency to refer a matter to him. And many people were expecting fireworks when Bugg appeared before the
Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee
last Thursday, with Senator
Joe Ludwig, Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs and a barrister,
fully briefed on the matter. Instead what we got was a fizzer:

Senator
LUDWIG – Have you instigated any action
on your own behalf against Robert Gerard
industries?

Mr
Bugg – No, I have
not.

Senator
LUDWIG – Have you considered whether or
not you should?

Mr
Bugg – Commence a
prosecution?

Senator
LUDWIG – Yes, to commence a prosecution
against Robert Gerard Industries.

Mr
Bugg – It really comes back to what I
said when we were before you in February—that I do not have an investigative
function. Without a brief being referred from an investigative agency, there is
nothing that I can do about that. I know some people differ in terms of that
view, but that is the position I have stated
previously.

Senator
LUDWIG – You do have the ability to ask
for a particular brief, though, don’t you?

Mr
Bugg – I am
sorry?

Senator
LUDWIG – You do have the ability to ask
for a brief. I think we have gone through some of this
before.

Mr
Bugg – Yes, we
have.

Senator
LUDWIG – Your answer last time was yes,
you do; but you have not in this respect.

Mr
Bugg – Yes.

Senator
LUDWIG – That has not changed from the
last time I asked you—you still have not asked for
one?

Mr
Bugg – No.

As a last resort I have
sent a letter to AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty asking him to consider an
investigation of the matter. Surely he will not be deterred by political
pressure.

Peter Fray

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