10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
-In view of the unprecedentedly large apple crop in Tasmania and other States, and the shortage of shipping between Australia and Europe, certain boats that were promised not being available, will the Prime Minister make representations in the proper quarters with a view to arrangements being made for the transport of the apples to the markets of the old world?
– I shall investigate the matter, and if I can usefully do so, make representations in the proper quarter.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that tenders for the purchase of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers have been despatched to Australia by the High Commissioner in London. As these tenders will arrive before the House resumes after the Easter adjournment, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the whole of them will be submitted to the House at the first opportunity, so that honorable members may see that the conditions of tender have been observed, especially that relating to the safeguarding of the freight interests of Australian importers and exporters ?
– The tenders received for the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers were despatched from London on 1st March, and are due to arrive in Australia during the first week of April. They will be made available to the House as soon as that can’ be done without prejudicing the public interest in regard to the Bale.
Fortifying Spirit and Bounty
– I ask the Minister for
Markets what amount ofexcise duty has been paid on spirits for wine fortification purposes since 1918, and what amount was paid by way of bounty on the export of wine during the sameperiod ?
– If the honorable member desires the information for all the years back to 1018, I shall have a return prepared. I can inform him from memory that the amount collected in excise duty on fortifying spirit for the year ended 30th June, 1927, was £435,000, and the amount paid in bounty was £442,000. For the eight months ended 29th February last the respective amounts were £184,000 and £452,000.
– On 2nd December last, when the honorable member for Swan was to resume his speech after dinner, a quorum was not present, and the summons bells were rung. As, however, the Senate bells had not stopped ringing, honorable members in the precincts of the chamber had no knowledge that the bells for this chamber were ringing a second time and a quorum was required. That occurred again after dinner last night, when by a strange coincidence the honorable member for Swan was again to resume his speech. Owing to the fact that the Senate bells were still ringing, honorable members in the King’s Hall and in the party rooms were unaware that a quorum was called for and the House might easily have been counted out. Will you, Mr. Speaker, endeavour to have installed bells of different tones for the two chambers, so that they may be easily distinguished?
– I think the bells for the two chambers are of different tones, but I shall have the honorable member’s complaint further investigated.
– As the Government Whip has mentioned my name rather prominently, I ask that instructions be given to him to see that when importantbusiness is before the chamber members, and especially Ministers, attend in their places; occasionally, at least.
– The honorable member must know that that is not within my province
australian delegation to eighth Assembly.
– In view of the large contribution annually made by the Australian taxpayers towards the upkeep of the League of Nations, and their right to know what is happening in connexion with the League, will the Prime Minister afford an early opportunity to the House to consider the report of the Australian Delegation to the Eighth Assembly?
– I am most anxious to afford an opportunity for a discussion of the reports of the delegations to the Seventh and Eighth Assemblies of the League of Nations, and will arrange for the interrupted debates to be resumed at the earliest convenient opportunity.
– I ask the Minister for Markets whether it is a fact that, from 1918 to June, 1927, slightly over £2,500,000 was collected in excise duties on fortifying spirit for wine, and that, since June last, £184,000 was also collected on fortifying spirit. I should also like to know whether it is a fact, as reported, that a further sum of £90,000 is owing to the Excise Department from the same source on deferred payment ?
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that an honorable member may not address to a Minister a question arising out of an answer just given, and especially he may not frame a question in such a way that it is in the nature of a speech to his constituents on a subject in which they are interested.
– It is permissible in the House of Commons, and the same practice has grown up in this House, for a member to ask a question to elucidate an answer to a question just submitted, so long as any further questioning does not amount to cross-examination of the Minister. The honorable member for Angas is in order, if his desire is to elicit information; but, if his intention is to convey information to the House, the question is out of order. I ask the honorable member so to frame it that he may obtain the information that he desires.
– The information already supplied to me seems to be con tradictory of that obtained from the Minister as the result of a former question. I am merely asking for information. The only other question that I wish to putto the Minister is whether the excise revenue received from fortifying spirit, and also from grape brandy, from 1922 to 1927, amounted to a sum in the neighbourhood of £3,000,000.
– I remind the honorable member that I am not an encyclopedia; but, as the amounts mentioned by him are apparently those referred to in my previous reply, I have no doubt that they are correct.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the. honorable member’s questions are as follow:-
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Tariff Board inquiry into the application for additional duties on petrol pumps, as the existence of Australian manufacturers is seri- ously threatened by the importations?
Mr. PATERSON (for Mr. Pratten). - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– I regret that the information is not yet available
Roofing of Parliament House - Land Tenure - Surrender of Leases - Footpaths - Freeho ld Land - Garage Accommodation at Hotels.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the . honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Is it a part of the duty of any commissioner or public servant, in receipt of a salary, to endeavour to destroy the present system of land tenure of the Federal Capital Territory by introducing deputations or by any other actions ?
– I understand that the honorable member’s question has reference to the occasion on which a deputation interviewed me recently on the subject of land tenures in the Federal Capital Territory. If this is so, I wish to make it clear that the introduction of the deputation to me’ by the Chief Commissioner, Federal Capital Commission, was of a formal character only, and that the Chief Commissioner did not associate himself in any way with the objects of the deputation or participate in the discussion that took place.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
With reference to a question asked by the honorable member foi- Melbourne on the loth instant, to which the Minister replied that “ there are approximately 100,000 acres of freehold land in the Federal Territory that has not yet been acquired from private owners, and no valuation has been made of those areas “ - is this reply in conflict with the Third Annual Report of the Federal Capital Commission, wherein it is stated that “ there are still about 40,000 acres of freehold land in the Territory, but it is not at present required for any public purpose, and there is no immediate need, therefore, to justify its acquisition”?
Will the value of such land be increased by delaying its acquisition, or will its price be fixed by the enabling act passed for such purpose?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On the 16th of March, the- honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked me the following questions : -
I am now in a position to advise him as follows : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Certain of this information is not available. I am, however, communicating with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and hope to he in a position to furnish a reply to the honorable member’s question at an early date.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice - 1. (a) What is the cost and tonnage of the Australian submarines Oxley and Otway ;
what is the name of the maker of such submarines ?
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions : - 1. (a) The estimated cost complete with reserve is £439,942 each; 1,500 tons each approximately.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
On what date was wire-netting gazetted as coming within the provisions of the Australian Industries Preservation Act?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
Wire-netting was gazetted under section 4 of the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1921-1922 on 1st May, 1924, and the gazettal took effect in regard to wirenetting entered for home consumption on and after 11th April, 1924.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– It will take some time to prepare all the information desired by the honorable member, but I will furnish replies as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Whether, with a view of providing information regarding the alleged drift of population to the cities, he will instruct the preparation of a statistical return, for presentation to Parliament, showing the estimated periods- which would elapse, on the basis of the past increases of population during the periods 1901-1911. 1912-21 and 1922-1927, in metropolitan and country areas in each State to double its population ?
– I shall arrange for the preparation of the desired return, if it is practicable to do so.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will furnish a return showing the total amount of big gun ammunition imported into Australia for defence purposes from 1st January, 1927, to date?
– It is considered inadvisable, in the national interest, to make public the information asked for by the honorable member.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs,upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Recipients of Distinctions
– On the 7th March the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies: -
Commonwealth Officials on whom Honours were Bestowed in connexion with the Openingof Parliament at Canberra.
Knight Commander of the Bath.
Sir C B. B. White,K.C.M.G.,K.C.V.O.,
D.S.O., Chairman, Public Service Board. (Commonwealth Director,Royal Visit, 1927). Military Service. - Served with A.I.F. Rank, Lieut.-General. P.M.F. Rank, Major-General.
Mr. J. H. Butters. C.M.G., M.B.E., Chief Commissioner, Federal Capital Commission. Military Service. - Hon. Lieut.-Col. A.M.F
Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St.George.
Mr. J. S. Murdoch, Chief Architect, Department of Works and Railways, and Acting Director-General of Works
Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Brigadier-General C. H. Brand, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.Military Service. - Served with A.I.F. Rank, Brig.-General. P.M.F. Rank, BrigGeneral.
Captain A. R. W. Curtis, C.M.G.. M.C., Military Secretary to the Governor-General. Military Service. - British Army.
Commodore G. F. Hyde, C.B.E., R.A.N., Commanding Australian Squadron. Military Service.- Served in War. Rank, Captain. Present rank, Rear-Admiral.
Member of theRoyal Victorian Order (Fourth Glass).
Captain W. R. Broadhurst, Chamberlain to His Excellency the Governor-General. Military Service. - British Army.
Mr. V. C. Duffy, Secretary, Royal Visit Cabinet Committee
Major J. Northcott, Commonwealth Transport Officer, Royal Visit. - Military Service. - Served with A.I.F. Rank, Captain. P.M.F. -Rank, Major.
Member of the Royal Victorian Order (Fifth Class).
Mr. J. L. Mulrooney, Entertainment’s Officer, Prime Minister’s Department (Royal Visit, 1927)
Mr. H. R. Waterman, Secretary, Royal Visit Section Federal Capital Commission. (Assistant Secretary, Federal Capital Commission)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Hon. Col. W. St. L. Robertson, O.B.E., Director of Remounts, Australian Military Forces. (Master of Horse, Royal Visit, 1927). Military Service. - Active Service, South Africa. A.M.F. Rank, Hon. Col
Officer, Order of the British Empire
Mr. T. C. G. Weston, Superintendent of
Parks and Gardens, Federal Capital Commission
Mr. C. S. Daley, Secretary, Federal Capital Commission
Mr. T. Hill, Chief Engineer, Department of Works and Railways
Mr. H. M. Rolland, Chief Architect, Federal Capital Commission
Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Mr. J. H. G. Connell, Assistant Engineer, Department of Works and Railways
Mr. J. T. H. Goodwin, formerly Commonwealth Surveyor-General.
Mr. W. E. Potts, M.C., Assistant Chief Engineer, Federal Capital Commission. Military Service. - Served with A.I.F. Rank, Captain. 4-5.I would refer the honorable member to pages 7, 45, and 40 of the report of the Royal Commissioner on Federal Capital Administration (Parliamentary Paper No. 378. 1914-15-16-17).
– On the 7th March, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked the following question, upon notice: -
What was the total amount expended (including administrative expenses, salaries of members, staff, &c. ) in connexion with all commissions, committees, and boards during 1926-27?
I am now in a position to furnish the desired information, as follows: -
Slotted Safety Device
– On the 15th March the honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) asked how many aeroplanes under the control of the Commonwealth have been fitted with the new slotted safety device. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that at present there are no aircraft under the control of the Commonwealth which have been fitted with auto slots. Auto slots are being fitted to all the new aircraft now on order for the Royal Australian Air Force, and the question of fitting them to other machines will be taken into consideration when ordering any further type.
– On the 8th March the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) asked the following question: -
Has the report yet been received from Captain Burgess, of the Defence Department, on the question of a site for the establishment of the proposed aerodrome at Bundaberg, and, if so, when will a copy of this report be available for perusal?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that a report has been submitted by Captain Burgess, of the Civil Aviation Branch, and has been placed on the Library table, where it may be perused by the honorable member.
– On the 16th March the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) asked the following questions: -
The following answers are now submitted : -
The following papers were presented -
Defence Act - Regulations. Amended - Statutory Rules 1928, No. 23.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1928, No. 25.
Papua Act - Ordinance of 1928 - No. 1 - Native Labour.
Mr. C. RILEY presented the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts upon transport facilities within the Federal Capital Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce). - (By leave) - Agreed to -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as will enable Notice of Motion, No. 4, General Business, in the name of Mr. Brennan, to take precedence for this
.- I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, the action of the Government in regard to certain notorious income tax evasions known as “ the Abrahams cases “, the history of which discloses improper and unprecedented bargaining on the part of the Government with selfconfessed malefactors, and grave failure to safeguard the revenues of the Commonwealth, is repugnant to right practice and out of harmony with correct and settled principles governing the administration of the criminal law.
I move this motion on behalf of the Opposition and with the concurrence of its Leader. It arises out of what was described by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) in a speech which he delivered in this House a little over a week ago as “ a series of frauds perpetrated in connexion with the evasion of income tax by the three brothers, Abrahams”. The situation was also summed up in the judgment of Mr. Justice Starke in these words -
It is plain on this material that the defendants operated together and possibly with others systematically to defraud the Commonwealth.
Investigations by officers of the Income Tax Department have been proceeding since 1920 into matters which arose out of an audacious application made by one or more of these brothers to defeat, in the courts, the assessment of their incomes made by the Commissioner of Taxation. From that time what might be described as a guerilla warfare has been waged upon this firm, its subsidiary companies, dummies and instruments. Surprise visits have been paid to their various places of business; questionings and examinations have taken place; and proof has been found of the use of faked documents, dummy companies and the names of dead or fictitious persons to defraud the Commonwealth of its dues. Banking accounts have been gone into which have been numerous and complicated enough to baffle even the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. To all these persistent efforts on the part of the taxation authorities to ascertain the facts, persistent and determined opposition and obstruction has been offered by the suspected persons. Even during the investigations these gentlemen have either themselves or through their numerous agents continued to falsify their returns and rob the Commonwealth. The investigation officers have found at their various places of business, butts removed from cheque books, obvious alterations in accounts, and deceptions practised in records contained in ledgers, cash books and other books of account. Whenever one of these three persons has been asked an awkward question it has been his practice to say, “ That was a matter entirely within the management of my brother.” If it were not Louis, then it was Charles, and if not Charles then Emanuel; but it did not happen on a single occasion that the person who was questioned was able to give the investigation officer any information. The inquiries were conducted with commendable industry by the officers of the Taxation Department. Eventually on their advice, search warrants were obtained and forcible entries made into certain places of business and’ private residences occupied by the principals in these cases, or by one or more of their numerous dummies. True to character, when the authorities expressed the determination to blow open certain safes, these gentry or one of them stood by and refused either personally or through representatives, to hand over the keys. Even when one safe had been blown asunder the man Bartlett, who was an agent of these brothers refused to hand over a key which he had in his pocket for another safe, and that also had to be forcibly opened, to enable its contents to be impounded by the authorities. Scarcely had the last echo of these explosions died away before these persistent tax-evaders were on their knees begging for terms from the officers of the Commonwealth. One of the most striking features of these deplorable cases is that the taxation authorities, having pursued their inquiries with keen intelligence and perseverance up to the stage at which they had in their possession, apparently, the whole of the papers for which they had so long inquired, when the matter came into the hands of the Government, it immediately fell down upon its job, and began to traffic with these malefactors as though they were citizens of probity and good name and had not been guilty of any offence much less conspiracy against the Commonwealth.
The Attorney-General stated that he accepts full responsibility for the action taken by the Government. My answer is, in the first place, that the honorable gentleman cannot escape responsibility, even if he would. I am bound to add that all the responsibility does not rest upon him personally; it has to be borne by the administration as a whole. The speech of the Attorney-General presents for consideration a number of vital principles, the sanctity of which is endangered by the procedure adopted in these cases. The honorable gentleman has issued a challenge to this party and to the country, and the Opposition takes up the gauntlet and joins issue with him. I submit that these wrongdoers should have been charged with conspiracy or other appropriate charge in a court of criminal jurisdiction before a jury of their own countrymen. They have committed a serious offence in the eyes of the law. It is provided in the Commonwealth Crimes Act that -
Any person who conspires with any other person -
to commit any offence against the law of the Commonwealth, or
to prevent or defeat the execution or enforcement of any Commonwealth Act or any regulation thereunder, or
to effect any purpose which is unlawful under the law of the Commonwealth, or
to effect any lawful purpose by any means which are unlawful under the law of the Commonwealth or
to defraud the Commonwealth shall be guilty of an indictable offence.
Penalty : Imprisonment for three years.
There are undoubted facts upon which these accused persons mighthave been successfully indicted under almost every one of the several heads set out in that section. Clearly there is an overwhelming case against them. The AttorneyGeneral preferred that the Commissioner should take certain proceedings under the Income Tax Assessment Act; by virtue of an agreement entered into between the Crown and these admitted malefactors, they were not charged with a criminal offence in the strict sense of the term. They were made defendants in a highly respectable, quasi-civil action in which their solicitor entered a defence on their behalf in these simple terms : “ The defendants admit the truth of the whole of the plaintiff’s case herein.” That was the defence in answer to charges running into twelve to thirteen pages of closely typewritten matter, setting out a long series of allegations of deception, intriguing, conspiring and evading. Mr. Speaker, in the course of your own experience as a distinguished member of the profession which you adorn you have probably seen accused persons enter their pleas in quite different circumstances from these. Legal members like the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and others have seen defendants in the dock under the searchlight of public observation, with the public on the ground floor and the press in the galleries, quaking at the knees, confronted with a record of their ill-doing and called upon to answer the question, “ Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” But by this agreement, these gentlemen were permitted to sit in their offices and listen to their solicitor reading the record of their fraudulent dealings with the country that has rendered them so much service. Possibly, growing weary before half the record was read, they said, “ Tut, tut ; never mind reading further. Admit it all. Let us get on with some other business.” And there, for the moment, for them, the matter ended.
The Income Tax Act provides machinery for collecting arrears of tax and for imposing penalties upon those who are in default. These provisions are useful, and they are suited to certain cases. They tend to safeguard the revenue and to enable the Crown to secure payments. and additional payments by way of penalty, from defaulting taxpayers. But they were never intended to, and they do not, in fact, supplant the law of this country which deals as a matter of public policy with grave criminal acts, and - especially such acts as are alleged in this case against the
Commonwealth and the taxpayers as a whole. Yet, while they were permitted to enter their plea in a dignified and perfectly gentlemanly way, as defendants in what I Iri ve referred to as p. quasi-civil action - one hardly knows how to describe it, having regard to the oblique methods adopted by the Government - those. who assisted them in their wrongdoing were thrown to the wolves. They were charged before a competent court in the ordinary way, and I. have a record of the cases. It was part of the agreement that they should be so charged and that they should plead guilty. A more extraordinary provision was never included in any agreement: that persons, not parties to it, should be required to publicly plead guilty to certain serious charges involving fraud and discredit. Mr. W. R. Bartlett, who stood by while the safes were being torn open was one victim. “For furnishing a false return he was fined £100. Fanny Cohen and Myriam Hyams were similarly charged and fined. Louis Hyams was fined £100 on the first. charge and £50 on the second charge. Other defendants were fined £100. A]l of them were mulcted in suitable amounts for costs. These were the dummies and underlings, but it was thought unnecessary that their employers - the millionaires - should be dealt with in the same way as these mere instruments.
I submit that cases of far reaching and persistent fraud such as this come peculiarly within the category of those that should be dealt with under the heading of conspiracy, but even if that is not so, the action of the Government in this case cannot escape the scorching dicta of Mr. Justice Starke, who has pointed out that the arrangement made by the Crown trespassed upon the province of the judiciary. The Government has dealt with this case politically and at the best on the basis of expediency, when it should have been dealt with judicially and from the standpoint of high public policy. No one has ventured to father the opinion that a charge of conspiracy would not lie against these persons. I shall show that there, is overwhelming evidence that it would lie, and in this regard a very important fact is that the Government has not ventured to place on the table the opinion of the counsel upon which it acted. I say, to put it mildly, that it is a great pity that etiquette and precedent should be weakly pleaded when a case of this kind comes up for discussion in the ‘ national parliament; a case which involves, in a certain sense, the very safety of the nation itself. We have been refused that opinion. I shall not place the worst inference that can be placed on that fact, but shall content myself with saying that the Government may not rely on the contents of a document which it does not dare to produce.
– Has the Government deliberately withheld that document?
– It has deliberately declined to produce it.
– Has any ground been given ?
– The Government has said that it is not the usual practice to produce counsel’s opinion.
– That is the reason that the Government has given, but then the case is not usual. If the opinion ‘;i any way justifies the AttorneyGeneral’s action, he should, in the interests of the Government have tabled it. I take leave to challenge the honorable gentleman to tell this House that he is satisfied that there were no sufficient grounds upon which those persons could have been indicted for conspiracy. That is a daring challenge, and I have sufficient confidence in the Attorney-General to believe that he would not misuse his position as the leader of the bar to mislead this House upon this question.
– Or upon any other.
– It is now weil established that an agreement to commit an offence is an indictable conspiracy, no matter whether the principal offence is punishable on indictment or not. The principal offence may be a minor offence, yet an agreement to commit it is a conspiracy. In this case there was an agreement to commit, not a minor offence, but a grave series of offences, and that was a conspiracy. The AttorneyGeneral has, I think, admitted that an indictment for conspiracy would lie, but he has made some remarkable statements in explanation of the fact that such a presentment has not been filed. One is that “where proof is available of the actual offence it is usual to proceed on that charge and avoid the difficulty of proving the agreement or conspiracy. He instanced the case of an agreement to commit burglary. He said, rightly, that when two or more persons break into a house at night that is usually done- pursuant to a conspiracy, but the Crown is satisfied with charging the delinquents, if it can lay them by the heels, with the crime of burglary, not with conspiracy. That is perfectly true, yet the illustration is unfortunate for the AttorneyGeneral, because the Crown puts such men on trial before a jury on the serious charge, and that is exactly what we say should have been done in this case. Further, the Attorney-General said that he was not uninfluenced - which I think, clearly means that he was influenced, although that form of speech was designed to temper the crudeness of the declaration - by the fact that he saw no reason why honest taxpayers should not receive the benefit of a contribution from dishonest taxpayers. All right-minded persons, whether lawyers or laymen, will agree that that excuse is as dangerous as it is specious. If it were valid, many an embezzler, or conspirator, indeed, possibly many another criminal, would be in the happy position of being able to plead restitution in bar of prosecution; and most of them would have a great deal less to restore than the Abrahams brothers have been required to pay back. But not only is restitution not admitted as a bar to prosecution, but the law sets its face so sternly against any practice of the kind that there has grown up a separate offence known as the compounding of felony. The’ action of the Government’ in compounding this offence, whether it be a felony or something .else, is open to serious criticism and censure. The principle to which I have just referred is as old as it is well founded; it rests on public morality and security, and upon that old maxim, not always respected, that there should not be one law for the rich and another for the poor.
The Attorney-General made much of the allegation that nothing in the agreement gave to the’ Abrahams brothers immunity from 1 prosecution. I presume he meant any kind of prosecution. He said that he would not have entered into, or permitted any one else to enter into, such an agreement. Of course, he would not ; indeed, if he had made such an agreement, or sanctioned the making of it by any person under his authority, he would, I think, have been guilty of an offence himself. There was no agreement in writing, but an agreement was implied as clearly as if it had been written and sealed that there would not be a particular kind of prosecution, and that the only kind of prosecution that these culprits really fear. If there were not, how does the Attorney-General account for the frantic efforts of these tax evaders, bidding in rises of hundreds of thousands of pounds, to settle? According to the agreement, the consideration for which Abrahams brothers disgorged their money so freely, was that their papers should be returned and the proceedings brought to a speedy termination. Does anybody believe that that was the real import of the agreement ? Obviously, it was not. Having regard to their eager disgorging, it is evident that the hidden meaning of the document was that these defaulters were to be saved from the dock, and from that they have been saved. There was not, and, in the circumstances could not be, a written agreement; but, strangely enough, it was with these persons of clouded probity, whom the agents of the Commissioner had been , fighting for six or seven years, who had defrauded the Crown, treated its officers with contempt, refused to deliver up their keys, or to allow their books to be inspected - it was with these persons that the Minister allowed to be made an unwritten arrangement as between gentlemen. Presumably the standard of gentility recognized by him was that embodied in the saying, “Money makes the gentleman.” It has been suggested, although never alleged, . that there was barely sufficient evidence upon which these malefactors might have been successfully charged with conspiracy, and the Attorney-General pointed out that such a charge would involve extradition of the fugitive delinquents, and lengthy proceedings during which “the lawyers would have had the time of their lives.” That cheap gibe about the legal profession might have come more fittingly from lips other than those of the Attorney-General, the chief lawyer of the Commonwealth.
My view is that in making that statement the Attorney-General was playing to the gallery. As to whether there was evidence upon which a charge of conspiracy could have been founded, I shall quote a few sentences from the report of the proceedings before Mr. Justice Starke in the High Court. Honorable members should take the opportunity to read from the file in the library this interesting report, which would form a very intriguing scenario for a film. Mr.
Justice Starke said
The whole case seems to be based upon conspiracy. Why were they not prosecuted for conspiracy under the Crimes Act?
Sir EDWARD MITCHELL Because, in the circumstances of the case, as the facts were ascertained after the raid and on the certificate of the Attorney-General, it was determined that there was not sufficient chance of getting a conviction before a jury. 1 hesitate to say of so distinguished a member of the bar as Sir Edward Mitchell anything more than that that statement is a masterpiece of justifiable evasion - justifiable, because he had his brief, and had to submit such reasons as occurred to him at the moment.
Mr. JUSTICE STARKE. A reasonable inference would be that they might have been committed to gaol.
Sir EDWARD MITCHELL. There was evidence at the time these facts were discovered from which there may be a strong inference drawn, but subject to great difficulty of proof.
Sir Edward had here weakened slightly.
Mr. JUSTICE STARKE. That is not for the Attorney-General to decide; that is a matter for a jury.
I respectfully concur. The AttorneyGeneral told us of the issue of a search warrant, and the raid upon the business premises of the Abraham brothers, and he said -
The search resulted in definite evidence oi fraud. ,
Then he added these remarkable words -
Detailed examination of the papers would probably have occupied eighteen months.
I do not know whether the honorable gentleman desired that observation to be taken literally; it seems to me incredible. But if the watch dogs of the department, in the course of an investigation extending over a few hours were able to obtain what the Attorney-General described as “ definite evidence of fraud,” what might they not have found during an examination extending over eighteen months ? The matter is placed outside the realm of argument by the further observation of Mr. Justice Starke -
It is plain on this material - and that material was before the Crown at all material times - that the defendants operated together, and, possibly with others, systematically to de fraud the Commonwealth.
– That is commonsense.
– It is more; it is a judicial finding of clear conspiracy, and, but for the risk of overloading the proofs, one might refer to some observations by the Commissioner, who is referred to in the’ preamble of this most questionable agreement as having said that he was satisfied that he was in possession of the whole of the information, and sufficient to enable him to make the assessments. He could not have been in possession of sufficient information to make those assessments without having sufficient evidence on which to found a charge of conspiracy against the delinquents. There is in this case the clearest evidence of what the judge described as a widespread conspiracy. Indeed, the defendants in their frantic desire to come to a settlement, made such admissions, and such a lavish surrender of money, that if they had been arraigned upon a charge of conspiracy, it is perfectly obvious that the case would not have extended over months and years, but that they would have entered a plea of guilty on the first day of the trial. Then if their counsel had been in a position to say for them standing in the dock, “ Your Honour, these persons have made ample restitution,” they . .might still have evaded gaol. We would not complain of an exercise of clemency of that kind, and in such circumstances the public conscience would have been satisfied. But we say that clemency should have been exercised by a judicial and not an executive act, and in the full light of day in the courts. But what really happened? Feeling that they did not deserve clemency, as they did not desire trial, these men rushed the Government with offers for a settlement. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) asks me what these bids were. I do not know that I have seen a statement of the precise amounts. The Attorney-General expressed the position in the dignified manner appropriate to his office by saying that first the defendants made one offer that was refused; then they made another offer that was refused, and then they made a third offer that was accepted. When the first offer was made, the Government said “ Get thee behind me, Satan.” When another £100,000, or let it be £200,000 - what does it matter? - was added to the offer, the Government said “ Get thee behind rae, Satan ; but not so far behind.” When a third offer, of £500,000 was made, then, and not till then, did the Government, accustomed to think, act and speak in terms of money prices, say, “ Satan, after all, you’re a sport; we accept it.” In this connexion I think that I should be permitted to quote from one of the papers laid upon the table of the library by the Attorney-General. It is part of an affidavit subscribed by Mr. Birch, apparently a most vigilant, enthusiastic .and capable officer of his department, who has been in the forefront of those carrying out these investigations. Paragraph 19 begins in these terms -
Shortly after the warrant had been executed, and documents and papers removed as aforesaid, offers of settlement were received by the Crown Solicitor and counsel for the. plaintiffs from counsel acting for the defendants. Counsel advised the Crown Solicitor, however, that the offers made should not be submitted to the Commissioner until hasty examination of the documents seized had been made and some opinion formed as to what evidence had been obtained. The offers were, therefore, refused: but counsel for the defendants persisted in increasing, on each refusal, the amount of his previous offer, until finally an offer >vas made to pay the sum of £500,000, together with; the sum of £10,000 for costs, and to plead guilty in this honorable court to taxation prosecutions averring fraud, and to abide by such judgment as this honorable court should think fit.
I make some comments on this paragraph. My first remark is that every succeeding offer was an additional reason why all offers should have been rejected, if rightly appreciated and understood. In the second place, why do we find these words, “ the offers made should not be submitted to the Commissioner until hasty examination of the documents seized- had been made”? For seven years the department had pursued these men, and sought the opportunity that was now in their hands to get their papers. The officers of the department had made these searches. They had followed these men from State to State. They had suffered insult and ignominy in the discharge of their duties. Yet when they had got everything in their hands, when they had blown in the defendants’ safes, and had gathered in their papers, the Government, I repeat, fell down on its job and declined to press the prosecution home. A “ hasty “ or perfunctory examination was stipulated of papers which it took years to discover. And why did the affidavit say, further, that counsel for the defendants “ persisted in increasing “ the offer ? There is a note of complaint in that. The suggestion is - “ They should not have made it so hard as they did for the department to resist the offer. They should not have offered us so much. How could they expect us to keep on refusing an offer bounding up by hundreds of thousands of pounds at every leap?” Then the defendants agreed to “plead guilty in this honorable court.” I may not be in possession of the full facts, because 1 have not all the papers; but where have they pleaded guilty in this honorable court ? “ I quoted the terms of their plea - their highly respectable defence in the circumstances that I have mentioned - and I have already shown in what material particulars that plea differs from that with which criminal lawyers are familiar. The underlings were proceeded against by way of information - a criminal procedure ; the principals by action - a civil “proceeding.
I leave that aspect of the case for the moment. I say that this tendency of those not represented by honorable members on this side to speak, and think, in terms of price in matters of public morality is to be deprecated. There are some things too precious to be sold at any price, and too dear to be bought at any price. One of those things is the pure administration of the criminal law. After all, what have these prime delinquents suffered ? It is true that the extraction of £500,000 from persons of this type of mind must have been a very painful major operation; but the average man asks - “ What is it to part with half a million, when one lives in the serene atmosphere of many millions “ ? Verily, what is half a million in such circumstances?
– Especially if they were making a lot more.
– The interjection is pertinent. In the phrase rendered immortal by the Treasurer, they have “ dropped the loot “ ; but have they dropped all the loot? That is one of the points that arises, and it is germain to that portion of my motion that speaks of the safeguarding of the revenues of the Commonwealth. It is not unreasonable to suppose that these defendants have garnered into their already swollen coffers hundreds of thousands of pounds in excess of the money that, with penalties - and in some cases double and treble taxation - they have so reluctantly, in the first place, and so eagerly at last yielded up. The Attorney-General himself has supplied information and evidence, in this regard. In the speech to which I have referred he stated -
His Honour apparently had not considered the fact that Parliament had expressly conferred upon the Commissioner the power of assessing what may be properly described as penalties to the extent of double tax. If treble tax is desired, proceedingsmust be taken in court, and for a period limited to three years. This fact was pointed out to His Honour in the afternoon of yesterday. Double tax on £140,000 would be £280,000. which would mean a total sum of £420,000 claimable by the department, in addition to the £354,000 referred to.
If one adds £420,000 to £354,000, one has a much larger sum than that which, after all the Commonwealth prides itself on having collected from these defaulting taxpayers. There is not the slightest doubt that, if the Government had not grown tired of receiving and rejecting offers in settlement, the defendants would have offered still larger sums; but the parties reached the stage that is eventually arrived at by all bargainers. The Government began to wonder, as one does in playing a game of poker, looking at the faces of the other players, whether the defendants might be relied upon to go a little higher. One asks whether, if the Government had put the matter to the test, these gentlemen who were so eager to settle the case, might not have cheerfully gone up to the amount of £700,000 odd, which, according to the Attorney-General himself, there was pretty clear evidence, was due.
– If the honorable member will read on he will find that I spoke to the contrary.
– I have not a copy of the honorable gentleman’s speech before me ; but I have tried to do him full justice in that regard. My recollection is that he said that there was evidence of that.From my knowledge of human nature, and the special knowledge that we have of these defendants, the inference is not only reasonable that these additional hundreds of thousands of pounds were due, but also that still further hundreds of thousands could justly have been collected from them. There are no similar cases ; but ] submit that view as a reasonable inference from all the facts, and from our knowledge of cases perhaps remotely parallel. I have said that all. that these men have been called on to do has been in the nature of a more or less partial restitution of what belongs to the Commonwealth. Not only have we these proofs of successful acts of swindling, which have gone on since the Commonwealth taxation laws were first established, but I am reminded of an interjection made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), when the Attorney-General was speaking. When the Minister said that there was evidence of these frauds going back to 1915, the honorable member remarked, “Yes, and much longer than that.” The Attorney-General, without any attempt to score off the honorable member, replied that federal income taxation was introduced only in 1915. Honorable members on that side of the chamber, with less knowledge and not so good memories as the honorable member for Melbourne, thought that the AttorneyGeneral had scored at his expense. The honorable member knew perfectly well, however, as I know, that for more than a quarter of a century these men have borne a name synonomous with fraud and dishonest dealing in every department in which they have operated, either by themselves or through their agents. The Attorney-General will plume himself on having safeguarded the revenue.I submit that he has not done so. Does he really contend, in face of the admission made by these defendants, in face of the papers in his possession, and in face of the overwhelming mass of other evidence which he has at his disposal, that he would have been unable to collect’ the amount owing, as a civil debt? I maintain that it would be possible to collect it as such, even if the charge of conspiracy should fail upon any technical or other ground, though I cannot see how it .could possibly fail.
Another consideration under this head is, how did two of the defendants leave Australia when they were under, suspicion, and while they were being watched by officers of the Home and Territories Department, and, presumably, of the Taxation Department. Two of them have been hybernating - if that is the correct expression - or should we say lucubrating - abroad. At one stage I asked the Attorney-General, in my innocence, how it came that two of the defendants had pleaded guilty in their absence. He said that they had put in a defence by their solicitors. When I saw the nature of their defence I can easily understand the simple method of their plea of guilty. Perhaps they were not even consulted on the matter; but let us .give them credit for having known something about it. They entered their plea of guilty, by joining in. a defence in which everything is admitted. I have not heard any explanation or excuse, however, as to why they were allowed to leave Australia. Is it not a fact that before a person can leave Australia he has to obtain a passport, and is it not a fact that ordinary, common people before leaving Australia have to pay their debts ? How is it that . passports were issued to these tourists? The thing becomes more complicated from the fact that a capable officer was appointed to watch Mr. Emanuel Abrahams. I am told that the watcher and the watched established very pleasant relations between themselves, that they used to foregather and enjoy themselves thoroughly. It has been alleged on oath, and not satisfactorily disproved, that the officer of the Government detailed on this business has been handsomely rewarded for his services by the person he was detailed to watch, and that when this taxpayer elected to leave Australia he bade farewell to the watcher on the wharf, waving his hand to him, and saying au revoir. Up to the present it has been a matter of good-bye not au devoir, because he has not returned. So far we have had no explanation of the conduct of this representative or instrument of the Government, whose business it was to safeguard the revenues of the Commonwealth.
– Except his dismissal from the Government Service.
– It is true that that officer was, we have been told, dismissed from the Service. There was a departmental inquiry, one of those investigations that are held behind closed doors, and I am not at all sure that full justice was done to Mr. Gabriel in the case. I should like to know much more about it, but the Government has afforded us no information as to why these absconders were allowed to tour, when they should have been required to pay. The Government, it is true, has hardly been more than an interested spectator of this sideshow, and the Attorney-General, I am certain, got nothing out. of it. Even the Treasurer has not referred to the case as an explanation of his own financial difficulties.
A word now as to the observa- . tion of the Attorney-General that the successful prosecution of these men in the higher, rarer, and purer atmosphere of the courts would have been difficult or impossible, and that it would have involved time and expense. It is the boast of our historic institutions that the chariot of justice goes inexorably on disregarding both time and expense. True it is that in the past, in the name of justice, grave injustices have been done; true it is that in the name of punishment monstrous and savage penalties have been exacted, but admitting all that, not until this present day and in connexion with this present agreement, has a government declared that the way is too hard, the task too great, and the price too high to pay for justice. In the preamble to this curious agreement, I read these words -
Whereas the taxpayers are advanced in years, have suffered and are suffering in health. and business in consequence of these allegations and proceedings, whereas they express their willingness and desire to end all further inquiries, litigation and expense by settling all claims, demands and penalties. “Suffering in health “ ! Ye gods and little fishes; “And in business”. I do not wish to play on the emotions of honorable members, but I have seen, as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has seen, old men helped into the dock to wait there weary hours while the machinery of the law worked its way upon them, and no question was ever raised as to their health or their business. I have seen women, the mothers of children, in a like position; and the question has never arisen as to their health or business; much less has it been suggested to the judge on the bench that the position at that stage might be met by restitution and compensation. Even if the prosecution for conspiracy should fail - and it could fail - let it be remembered that there still stand those scathing remarks of Mr. Justice Starke, in which he stated that matters of penalty were confided to the judiciary, and not to the executive, and that the act did not contemplate the Government and any party agreeing together as to the amount of penalty. Such a course, he added, was contrary to the policy and plain intention of the act.
It may be said that I am appearing in the new role of one who is urging oppressive penalties, and that I am acting the part of the sleuth in pursuing these persons, and pressing for vindictive punishment. There has never been a time when it has not given me real pleasure to witness the exercise of clemency. But let it be clemency applicable to all. Let it be clemency exercised in the open light of day, and above all, let it be clemency that cannot be purchased by the rich man at the expense of the community as a whole. I suppose it would be too much to expect that I could be thought to address myself to this subject free from the influences of party politics. I am trying to do so, but I ask honorable members opposite to remember, when they come to pass judgment on this case, that there is a public opinion developing outside. It has found expression in the press, and it is finding expression in the streets. This motion has not been fashioned in such a way that it prevents any honorable member upon the Opposition side of the House from recording his vote with the Government if he thinks that the Minister has acted rightly, or prevents a Government supporter from, showing his opinion of the case by voting with the Opposition. It may be in its terms a vote of censure, but it is desired that it should express the feeling of this House independent of party. I invite those gentlemen opposite, to whom the traditions of British jurisprudence are sacred, to uphold those traditions by crossing the floor and voting with us. There are many of my fellow practitioners among honorable members opposite, and I ask them to search their memories and their knowledge to find a precedent for the case which they are now being asked to consider. There is nothing more sensitive than the public conscience in regard to the administration of the criminal law, and if honorable members agree with me in that, I ask them to uphold the best traditions of our race, in regard to its free and fearless administration. I submit that we, as the representatives of the people in the National Parliament, have resting upon us, in a special way, the duty of establishing precedents worthy of following, and of laying down, particularly in cases in which are involved issues of this description, right rules of conduct. I, therefore, invite every member to support the motion.
– The important motion which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has submitted to the House has as its object the condemnation of the Government upon the grounds stated in it, which he has- developed more fully in his speech. I propose to inquire rather more precisely, and in some respects, more fully than the honorable member has done into the circumstances which have lead him to move the motion. During and since 1918, the taxation authorities have conducted extensive examinations into the affairs of the Abrahams brothers. Their transactions were examined in the first place for the purpose of making sure that the full amount of taxation for which they were liable was being paid by them. Originally, there was no evidence of fraud, but as the investigations proceeded, many suspicious facts were brought to light. Since 1924, the whole time of a very capable officer of the Taxation Department, Mr. Birch, and from a later date, the time of another able officer, Mr. Neale, has been devoted to an endeavour to disentangle the facts in relation to the business transactions of these persons, so far as it was necessary to do so for the purpose of ascertaining the full extent of their liability to Commonwealth income taxation. The position was extraordinarily complicated. One of the affidavits, which is available for perusal by honorable members, shows that it was necessary to make an examination into the financial affairs of 28 separate individuals, seven companies, and twelve partnerships, in order to endeavour to ascertain the exact amount of taxation which the Abrahams brothers should pay. It will therefore be realized that the investigations required a great deal of time and a high degree of skill. By 1924 the officers of the department had satisfied themselves that serious frauds had occurred, but they considered that there was no evidence available upon which a definite charge could be laid, and that they were only at the beginning of their investigations. The honorable member for Batman asked, in the course of his speech, how it happened that two of the principals were allowed to leave Australia. I have made inquiries into that matter from officers of the Taxation Department, and I am informed that in 1925 the solicitor for one of the brothers notified the Investigation Branch of the department that his client desired to travel abroad. He drew attention to a certain legislative provision which enabled the Commissioner of Taxation to require a deposit on account of liability to taxation from persons who intended to leave the Commonwealth, and asked what sum should be deposited. The Commissioner fixed the amount at £150,000. At that time no charge had been laid against any of the brothers, and no facts were in the possession of the department which justified them in asking for any arrests to be made. But instructions were given to the Home and Territories Department, which controls the issue of passports, that a passport was not to be granted to any of the brothers without the approval of the Taxation Department. By some means or other, two of the brothers succeeded in getting out of Australia, and their whereabouts have not since been discovered. Honorable members will appreciate the difficulty which the officers have had in dealing ‘ with the case on this account. The honorable member for Batman has said something about defendants standing in the dock to answer charges. The difficulty has been, and still is, to get the defendants into the dock, for no one knows where two of these persons are. It is all very well to talk about proceeding against individuals when they are available to be proceeded against, but there is no known means of presenting persons on a criminal charge except by putting them in the dock. Diligent inquiries have been made to ascertain where these persons are, but, notwithstanding information which has been received from time to time that they are supposed to be here, there, or somewhere else, they have not been discovered. The investigation into the affairs of these persons continued during 1925, 1926, and 1927, but no satisfactory evidence was obtained upon which the Commissioner of Taxation thought that he would be justified in proceeding. Accordingly, a conference of counsel engaged in the case, namely, Sir Edward Mitchell, K.C., Mr. Owen Dixon, K.C., Mr. Dixon Hearder, Mr. Robertson, and Mr. Gorman was held, with myself, to consider the matter. During the course of the investigations the Crimes Act had been amended - in 1926 - and power was provided for the law authorities to issue search warrants in such cases. It was decided to exercise this new power, and to search eight houses or offices which were occupied by the defendants or their agents in Melbourne. As the honorable member for Batman has pointed out, extreme steps had to be taken, and most drastic measures adopted, before the persons authorized to make the search were able to complete their investigations.
– Was this after the departure of the two Abrahams brothers?
– The Attorney-General might explain how they came to obtain passports.
– It is presumed that they left Australia without passports. It is believed that they went away as members of a crew. That is how it is usually done; but what really happened in this case is not known. I think it will be agreed that at this stage, at all events, the Government Avas not animated by any feeling of friendship towards these persons. Their offices and private houses were compulsorily and thoroughly searched. I was severely criticized for authorizing, in connexion with the case, the search of a solicitor’s office, but I considered that the interests of the public justified me in ordering that to be done. “When I was approached by the Law Institute on this matter, I defended and justified my action.
The evidence obtained by means of these searches established definitely that there had been a fraudulent understatement of income to a large amount; and also a fraudulent evasion of income taxation. At the same time, the case was extremely complicated. The frauds were effected largely by means of the establishment of companies which were separate legal entities from their shareholders or the Abrahams brothers, and were used as a means of obscuring the income of all the parties concerned. Very many of the acts done were not done by the individuals personally, but by some other person acting under a power of attorney. This made very difficult the sheeting home of personal responsibility. Difficult questions of law were involved. One of these was whether the income of the companies which were formed was all to be regarded as being really the income of individuals. As a general rule, it would be impossible to establish the proposition that the income of a company was to be regarded as the income of an individual. The advice of counsel was taken on this matter, and it was decided to proceed upon the basis that the Abrahams brothers were to be charged income taxation in respect of all the income of the companies which they had formed. It was upon that basis that the Commissioner acted in all subsequent proceedings. An important element in the case, however, is that there is room for serious argument and doubt as to whether it would be held, if the point were contested in a court, that all those companies could be regarded as agents for individual taxpayers. If that contention, were not upheld, a large portion of the claim which the Commissioner of Taxation has made upon the Abrahams brothers would disappear.
The question, then arose as to the proper action to take to protect the public interest. The considerations which weighed with the Government and with myself in advising it upon this matter, were, first, that there should be adequate punishment of all the individuals concerned, and’ that there should be a complete vindication of the law; secondly, that there should be a proper public exposure of all the persons concerned in the fraudulent transactions which had occurred ; and, thirdly, that the revenue should be protected. These matters were considered by the five counsel whose names I have mentioned, together with the Crown Solicitor, the Solicitor-General, and myself. I advised the Government as to the general course to be pursued, though the multifarious details involved in carrying out that course were left to the Crown Solicitor and to counsel. Two courses were open. One was a prosecution for conspiracy under the Crimes Act, with a penalty of three years’ imprisonment or a fine of £300, together with prosecutions under the Income Tax Act. The other was a prosecution under the Income Tax Act only. I considered whether it was proper and possible, having regard to the public interests concerned and to all the circumstances, to prosecute upon a charge of conspiracy, which might result in the imprisonment of those concerned. In considering that various matters had to be taken into account. Primarily, conspiracy to commit an offence is itself an offence, independent of whether ‘ or not the offence is committed. Conspiracy consists in the agreement to commit an offence. I am not aware of any case where a charge of conspiracy has been brought in which there has been evidence of the commission of the actual offence. It may be that there are such cases. I was perfectly prepared in this case to advise the Government to adopt both courses if I could see that there .was anything like a reasonable chance of success, and if the procedure was justifiable in the interests of the public and the vindication of the law. As was suggested by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) there are various types of conspiracy which had to be considered in relation to this matter. There was no direct evidence of an actual -agreement among the three Abrahams brothers to break the law. Was there, then, sufficient indirect evidence of an agreement to justify submission of the case to a jury ? Under our system of jurisprudence it is the duty of the Attorney-General, in the case of indictable offences, to determine whether there shall be a prosecution. He determines, upon a consideration of the facts, whether the legal evidence justifies the person concerned being placed upon trial. It is not as the honorable member for Batman seemed to suggest, by citing Mr. Justice Starke, for a jury to determine whether a person, should be tried upon a particular offence. That must be determined by the executive authority charged with the administration of the law. Had proceedings for conspiracy been taken it would have been necessary to see that there was evidence against each defendant of his implication in the agreement, which would have been the foundation of the charge. It would have been necessary to establish against each defendant - had we had all the defendants, which we had not - the existence of a conspiracy by evidence admissible against him, and not merely against his brothers ; also the fact that he was a party to that conspiracy.
The matter was carefully examined by counsel, by the Crown Solicitor, and by the Solicitor-General. The honorable member for Batman stated that these opinions had not been laid upon the table of the House and made available for publication, and complained that I had relied on what I described as “ the universal practice of Parliament.” There are reasons which should satisfy honorable members that the course suggested is not a sound one when the Commonwealth is a litigant. The disclosure of counsel’s advice would convey information to the opposing litigant while the case was still before the court. It is desirable that the Commonwealth should be in at least as good a position as any person in the community to obtain absolutely independent advice from the Bar of this country. That independent advice, in accordance with the generally recognized rule, can be obtained only upon the understanding that it is treated as confidential. In the public interest counsel’s advice cannot properly be disclosed. That this is well recognized may be seen by reference to the recognized authorities on parliamentary procedure, May and Bourinot which clearly state the principle established in the House of Commons and the Canadian Parliament.
These matters were considered by counsel and by the officers of my department. I acted rightly in obtaining the best advice available, but I must bear responsibility for the action which I advised the Government to take. As the honorable member for Batman justly said, I cannot evade that responsibility. I have never sought to evade it. I considered all the information available. There were the serious difficulties of proof to which I have referred, arising from the existence of companies which are separate legal entities or individuals; many acts were done by persons acting under a power of attorney, and, therefore, could not be charged as the personal act, of the principal to the power of attorney.
Conspiracy is a notoriously difficult charge to prove. Generally it is adopted only as a last resource. When it is impossible to charge a person successfully with the commission of an actual offence, and where it is plain that there has been a breach of the law, a conspiracy charge is sometimes laid, but it is a rare procedure. In a conspiracy case what is evidence against “A” is not evidence against “ B “ and “ C.” In this case two of the three proposed accused were beyond the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, and it was impossible to stand them in the dock. It may be unfortunate, but that was so. That was the set of circumstances to which I had to address myself. I had to act at the time. I could not wait indefinitely on the chance that inquiries which were being made would some day prove successful, by locating the whereabouts of the other two men.
I was also influenced by the knowledge that a delay of many months might have quite serious results. A full examination of the documents would take many months. In saying that I am acting on information supplied to me, as I have not personally read the documents. It would have taken a still longer period before the prosecution could have been brought into the courts. One taxpayer, Alfred Abrahams, was here. Honorable members will recognize that, as the matter is still in a sense in the hands of the court, I labour under some difficulty in saying anything which may be used even now against the interests of the Commonwealth. But I am at liberty to say that the evidence of conspiracy - as distinct from fraud - against Alfred Abrahams was so particularly weak as to be almost negligible. There was no evidence upon which any responsible law officer could properly have put the only available defendant upon his trial.
I do not wish, in submitting these legal considerations to the House, to give any ground for the suggestion that I have any doubt as to what the facts were. I have no moral doubt that there was a great and far-reaching conspiracy. The difficulty was to prove the allegations by legal evidence against the only individual who could have been made to answer the charge. An attempt to reach the other two brothers, who were the real principals in the matter, would have involved great delay, enormous expense, and the result would necessarily have been uncertain. When they were found, extradition proceedings would be necessary; and we do not know from which country they would have to be extradited. After many months, or even years, the matter might have reached the stage of trial. In the meantime all other proceedings would have to be held up, awaiting the termination of the criminal proceedings. It is not the ordinary practice, arid it would not be proper to proceed civilly against any person who is answerable to a criminal charge in relation to the same subject matter as that with which the civil proceedings deal. Prosecution for conspiracy held the prospect of indefinite delay, and, in the meantime, there would have been no way whereby the Commonwealth revenue could be protected. I submit to honorable members that that was a circumstance which it was proper for me to take into consideration, although the honorable member for Bat man has seen fit to suggest that in no clr- cumstances should it have entered into consideration.
– I did not. I said that, in addition to other lapses, the. honorable gentleman had lost money on the transaction.
– Then I misunderstood the honorable member. Even though we had searched safe deposits, and actually had in our hands a tremendous sum of money in Commonwealth bonds, there was no legal method of obtaining anything on account of the liability as taxpayers if a conspiracy charge had been lodged. All civil proceedings would have had to wait for an indefinite period until the defendants were brought to Australia and duly charged.
I decided, therefore, that if there were any other means available to vindicate the law, to expose and punish the defendants, and to secure what was justly owing to the revenue of the Commonwealth, it would not, in the circumstances, be proper to institute proceedings for conspiracy on the remote chance of convicting only one of the principals, and of securing a sentence of imprisonment against him, with an extreme penalty of £200 as an alternative to imprisonment. That conclusion was the result of the best and most earnest consideration that could be given to the case after obtaining advice in highly qualified quarters. It would, I am prepared to concede, be open toanybody else to come to a different conclusion. But my conclusion was as I have stated. The considerations which weighed in my mind were those which I have mentioned, and no others. There was, and is, no agreement not to prosecute for conspiracy. The whole agreement is contained in the document which is available to honorable members. An agreement not to prosecute for conspiracy would, itself, have been an offence under the Commonwealth Crimes Act, which contains a special section dealing with compounding an offence against the Commonwealth law. I am at least sufficiently instructed in law not to render myself liable to a penalty of three years’ imprisonment for doing what the honorable member for Batman has practically suggested that I have in substance, or in effect, done. Nothing of the kind was done at all. With regard to conspiracy, the. question arose whether the acceptance of the offer would be a satisfactory means of vindicating the law, punishing the offenders and giving full publicity to their frauds. Had there been no such offer, it would have been necessary to take the only other means afforded by law. “ -
The legislature has dealt specifically with income tax offences, has provided severe penalties for them, and has laid down the procedure for enforcing penalties. It is important that honorable members should understand precisely what Parliament has done in relation to income tax offences as evidenced in the legislation of the Commonwealth. The Income Tax Assessment Act of 1915 provided that the Commissioner might, in the case of a person understating his income, charge- an additional 10 per cent., which amount, if thought fit by the Commissioner, might be remitted. Section 60 of that Act reads : -
Any person who, with intention to defraud, in any return understates the amount of any income, shall be guilty of an indictable offence. Penalty; £500 and au amount equal to treble the amount of income tax which would have been avoided if the income stated in the return had been accepted as the correct income.
Section 61 reads : -
Any person, who, by any wilful act, default, or neglect, or by any fraud, art, or contrivance whatever, avoids or attempts to avoid assessment or taxation shall be guilty of an indictable offence. Penalty; £500 and treble the amount of tax payment whereof he has avoided or attempted to avoid.
In both instances the offender would be tried before a jury because the offences are made indictable offences.
– No imprisonment is provided.
– That is so. Those were the precise offences of which evidence was discovered in this case. In 1915 Parliament provided that offenders were to be tried before a jury. In 1918 the law was amended by extending the powers of the Commissioner to enable him to impose double taxation upon any person who failed to include any assessable income in his return, or included deductions to which he, was not entitled. It also provided that the Commissioner might remit the additional tax or any part thereof. Those provisions are contained in section 59 of the consolidated act of 191.5-18.
– Is “ intent to defraud “ - included in that section ?
– No. Under that provision a large discretion was vested in and a heavy responsibility imposed upon the Commissioner in the administration of taxation laws. At the same time the provisions relating to “ intention to defraud “ were left unchanged, except that section 61a, a new section, provided that a prosecution in respect of an offence against either two of the last preceding sections - which I have already read - may be commenced at- any time within three years after the commission of the offence. Accordingly, in respect of the last three years, offences involving fraud were to be prosecuted before a jury, and treble tax would be imposed. The power of the Commissioner to charge double tax was not an arbitrary power. He could only impose double tax when the facts warranted it. The procedure then was to impose the extra tax upon the offending taxpayer, and if he were not content to pay it, the Commissioner would have to sue for it and would haveto prove his case. Honorable members will see that Parliament entrusted to the Commissioner large discretionary powers in determining the amount of penalty to be imposed for taxation offences.
In 1922 the law was again altered, but the provision allowing the Commissioner to impose by way of penalty a discretionary amount up to double tax was retained. Sections 68 and 69 relating to offences involving fraud, were altered, and it was provided that such offences should no longer be indictable. They were made simple offences. That meant that income tax offences involving fraud which hitherto were tried before a jury were, instead, to take the form of actions for penalties. That is the law as it stands to-day, and I had to be guided by it when considering what proceedings were to be taken. Trial by jury, when involved accounts are under the consideration of twelve men in a box, is not always a satisfactory method of dealing with taxation offences. I presume that that is one reason why the law was altered in 1922. Honorable members will, I hope, perceive the significance of the action of Parliament itself in deciding that income taxation prosecutions were to be tried not before a jury but before a judge only and in the form of penal actions. The three years’ limitation still remained in relation to offences involving fraud. “When the documents had been examined, it was. decided, in view of the provisions of the act and of the fact that the three years’ limitation would expire within a day or two, to issue three writs, in order to save the position. Had those writs been delayed, the opportunity of getting treble taxation for one of the years would have been lost.
The defendant’s counsel then, as the honorable member for ‘Batman has said, approached the counsel for the Commonwealth. The position was that the Commonwealth possessed the accounts and papers, as well as a large sum of money, belonging to the defendants. Ultimately an offer was made of £500,000 for both tax and penalty.
At that stage the matter was brought before me. The picture that the honorable member has drawn of the Government alternately backing and filling and toying with the tempter -has no foundation in fact whatever. I did not know that any offers were being made until I was informed of the offer of £500,000. It was then my responsibility to advise the Government whether that offer, or indeed any offer, should be accepted. As I have said, I had already considered the question of conspiracy. I considered it again. I determined, for the reasons that I have placed before the House, that it was neither necessary no*1 wise to prosecute the single available defendant for conspiracy, . and the question of accepting the offer was submitted for the advice of five counsel and for the consideration of the Crown Solicitor and the Solicitor-General. Honorable members will observe that up to the present I have contented myself by saying that I received the advice of counsel and considered it. But in the agreement which was prepared by the Crown Solicitor and settled by counsel, the following appear : -
And whereas the Commissioner has, upon recommendation of counsel employed by him, and of the law officers of the Commonwealth decided to accept the hereinbefore recited offers made by the taxpayers, and to enter into and execute this indenture. c
That shows that the agreement was entered into on the recommendation of counsel. I, have already given to the House the names of the counsel employed by the Commonwealth, and some of them at least are known to every honorable member as worthy representatives of the bar of Australia. Is it likely that those gentlemen would have recommended the Commissioner of Taxation to enter into an agreement possessing the features which the honorable member for Batman has sought to attach to it? Surely he mere fact that those gentlemen were prepared to recommend the making of the agreement is in itself very strong evidence, not only of the bona fides but also of the propriety of the action. The officers of my department and I had no concern in doing anything other than what seemed proper and in the public interest. One of the recommendations of counsel, as appears in the agreement, was that public proceedings against the Abrahams brothers and others should be continued, and that there should be a full exposure of their offences. Writs had been issued in the High Court for offences against the Income Tax Assessment Act. These proceedings were what Part VIII. of the act describes as “ taxation prosecutions “ ; they were criminal proceedings with a civil form of procedure. Sir Edward Mitchell in the argument before Mr. Justice Starke in the High Court stated the position as it appeared to counsel in this way -
Although the Attorney-General, on the consideration of the facts as given to him, determined that it was not his duty to direct the prosecution outside this act, it is a different matter to say that he would accept £500,000 without bringing people like these before the court so that the public would see what has been done, and that proper penalties have been inflicted upon them for doing it.
In other words, the Government took such action as would ensure that these proceedings would receive full publicity. The Commissioner could, under the powers vested in him by Parliament, have dealt with the matter without taking it to court. That course deliberately and advisedly wa3 not adopted ; the legal proceedings preliminary to a trial in court continued, and the defendants agreed to plead guilty. I cannot agree that the Commonwealth authorities were guilty of any impropriety in accepting such a plea. Seven other persons whose names have been mentioned by the honorable member for Batman as having been associated with the prin cipals in this matter, also pleaded guilty in proceedings before a police magistrate under section 66 of. the Income Tax Assessment Act. The honorable member suggested that a distinction was drawn between the Abrahams brothers and their subordinates, in that the latter were forced to run the gauntlet of the police court, whereas the principals were only prosecuted in the High Court. Part VII. of the act sets out the “ penal provisions “ and under section 66, which was selected by counsel as being most applicable to the offences committed by the seven agents, the prescribed penalty is “ not less than two pounds nor more than one hundred pounds.” In the High Court the Abrahams brothers were proceeded against for penalties totalling £266,000. Yet the honorable member for Batman suggests that they should have been proceeded against under section 66, which makes the maximum penalty £100.
– Did they plead guilty ?
– They certainly did in their statement of defence.
Mr.Brennan. - Is that a plea of guilty ?
– The Attorney-General knows that it is not.
– I ask that that statement be withdrawn.
– So far as it reflects upon the Attorney-General, I withdraw it, but the fact is undoubtedly what I have stated.
– The honorable member for Batman must withdraw his remark unreservedly.
– Any reflection on the Attorney-GeneralI withdrew unreservedly. My statement of the law I stand by absolutely.
– The honorable member must withdraw unreservedly and without further remark.
– I do not know what is required of me. Any reflection upon the Attorney-General I withdraw without reservation, but what I said involves other things.
– The honorable member is out of order. He must withdraw without reservation or without further remarks.
Mr.Brennan. - I have withdrawn any reflection upon the Attorney-General. You cannot get any more than that out of me. I shall not prostitute my knowledge of the law. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, cannot put me in the wrong.
– The Chair has no desire to put any honorable member in the wrong.
– Your special pleading may go.
– When a remark is made which any honorable member regards as personally offensive to him, it must be withdrawn unreservedly.
– You cannot take sides in this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– The honorable member has been allowed a great deal of latitude. If he continues to offend, I shall have to take other action.
– I think the honorable member for Batman is under a complete misapprehension. Part 8 of the Income Tax Assessment Act provides for what are called “ taxation prosecutions,” and the agreement with the defendants provided, inter alia, that they undertook - not to deny but in and by their pleadings to admit the allegations to be made in the statements of claim- hereafter to be delivered in the said taxation prosecutions.
That I submit amounted to a plea of guilty; the honorable member for Batman says that it did not.
– I do.
– I am unable to understand the distinction which the honorable member seeks to draw. The defendants admitted the offences charged and submitted themselves to the judgment of the court as to the penalties to be imposed upon them. That is the utmost that could possibly have been obtained by any taxation prosecution. I have already reminded the House that, by an alteration of the law, these taxation offences were made unindictable. If the law Lad not been altered and the offences were still indictable, the procedure would have been different.
The agreement dated 26th September, 1927, was drawn up by the Grown Solicitor, and was settled by counsel for the Commonwealth. I did not see the agreement until after it was signed and completed. I cannot be expected to supervise all the details of my department; accordingly I left the details of thi? matter to the Crown Solicitor and counsel. The honorable member has referred to that portion of the recital which set forth that the defendants were aged and in ill-health, and I agree to some extent with his comments thereon. Had I seen the draft of the document, I would not have sanctioned a recital in those terms. Nevertheless, I must support my officers, and I recognize that the agreement was settled by the solicitors representing both sides.
The penalty of £500)000 was arrived at as a round sum, which appeared to be properly payable by way of taxation and penalty, and as not being excessive. If the proceedings had been con. tested it would have been necessary to prove intention to defraud in respect of every separate item and figure. That would have been very difficult; indeed, it could not have been accomplished in respect of all items. In regard to some, the defendants might have been able to prove that there’ had been a mistake, and in respect of others they might successfully have urged that there was no evidence of intent to defraud. Assuming everything in favour of the Commissioner - that his view of the law was correct as to the propriety of regarding the income of the companies as income’ of the individuals, and that there was intention to defraud in every error that could be discovered by an analysis of the accounts - the departmental officers calculated that he could under the powers conferred upon him by the act, without going to court at all, have imposed taxes and penalties for the twelve material years amounting to £662,000. lt was not possible to prove this claim in its entirety, but it was thought proper not to deal with the matter without full publicity, and for that reason the three years- in respect of which prosecutions could be instituted under the Income Tax Assessment Act were made the subject of proceedings which came before the High Court. In view of all the circumstances - and honorable members will realize that there were many relevant circumstances other than those referred to by the honorable member for Batman - it was decided to accept an undertaking by .the defendants’ ‘to pay £500,000, of which £200,000 was to be paid at once. That money was to be applied to the payment of tax, the Commissioner’s penalties, and any penalties which might be imposed by the court. In the opinion of our advisors, the court was free to fix such penalties as it thought proper, and the Commissioner would be content to accept the balance of the £500,000 in satisfaction of his claims. When the eases came before the court, the defendants admitted all the facts alleged. The judge expressly stated, and accepted the position, that there was no promise that the defendants would not be prosecuted for conspiracy. I think that the honorable member for Batman, in citing portions of the remarks of Hi3 Honour, might have read his final observation upon this matter, given not in tlie course of argument upon a preliminary, view, but in his considered judgment, that there was no promise not to prosecu for conspiracy.
– That is admitted But I said that it was clearly implied.
– I welcome the admission. Honorable members will recognize that it is necessary for me to set before them what actually occurred, and to make some comments upon it. This necessity has arisen from the course adopted by -the court in refusing to make an order, either for the plaintiff or the defendants, and adjourning the case sine die. At the same time I hope that any comments I make will be consistent with the fullest respect for the judiciary. His Honour expressed the opinion, during the hearing of the case, that the penalties provided by the Income Tax Acts were extortionate. . It was at once said by counsel that that was a matter for Parliament and not for the judiciary I suggest that it is entirely for Parliament to say whether or not a treble tax is a proper penalty. In his judgment, His Honour said that the sum of £500,000 was ruinous and excessive, and that such an exaction was contrary to law. That statement is the real cause of the attention that has recently been devoted to the case in the press and elsewhere. His Honour did not appear to think that the defendants had been let off too lightly, as the honorable member for Batman suggests. I shall read His Honour’s words, so that there may be no misunderstanding .on the matter. He said -
As I follow the statement of claim, the tax evaded and the maximum penalties amount in round figures to the sum of £354;237.
The penalties sued for amounted to £266,000, and His Honour took the amount of tax as being the balance, making up the sum of £354,237. His Honour continued -
But the Commonwealth is to receive £500,000, and is in addition, according to information given to me by the learned Counsel, to retain any tax paid by the companies formed by the defendants in respect of the years in question here. Such an exaction is contrary to law. Again, the’ costs to the amount of £10,000 appear to me far in excess of any sum that could be recovered in these prosecutions.
I may say that other proceedings concerning last year, as well as proceedings concerning prior years, were not before the court at all. His Honour continued -
No doubt the sum includes the costs of investigation and of warrants to seize and search the premises of the defendants and others; ‘but 1 am unable to follow on what basis such costs are recoverable. Sir Edward assured me, and I accept his assurance, that no promise of immunity was offered to the defendants in respect of any other proceedings against them or their friends, whatever they might have expected or hoped from their surprising offer. My duty of investigating this arrangement ended, I think, at this point; but enough was disclosed to make it clear in my opinion that the arrangement with the defendants is contrary to the policy and plain intendment of the Income Tax Acts, and has the effect of imposing on the” defendants a pecuniary liability for tax penalties and costs which is in excess of any sum recoverable according to law. The avowed purpose of these proceedings is to use the judgment of .this court for the purpose of executing and enforcing the arrangement with the defendants, and so long as that arrangement and purpose subsists I am not prepared to give any judgment lending the aid of this court to any such purpose. consequently, the prosecutions will stand adjourned sine die, and, if circumstances alter, the Attorney-General and the Commissioner may apply at any time to restore them to my list for further consideration and judgment.
It will be seen that His Honour, -in the circumstances of the case, exercised his judicial discretion by declining to give judgment for either the plaintiff or the defendants. I am not aware .of any precedent for such an attitude, and no authority was cited at the bar, or from the bench, showing that an order of indefinite postponement had been made in any prior case. With much respect to the court, my view has hitherto been that it is the function of a court to decide cases brought before it according to law, and that a court has no other function. If a court is not satisfied that a plaintiff is entitled to- judgment for the whole or any - part of the amount claimed, the procedure universally followed, so far as I am informed on. the matter, has been, unless there is a provision for nonsuit, to give judgment for the defendant, in which case the plaintiff, if dissatisfied, may appeal. [Extension of time granted.] The sum sued for as penalties on the tax alleged and admitted to have been fraudulently evaded for the last three years was £266,000. I am using round figures. This sum only was the subject of the proceedings before the High Court. Apart altogether from this matter, the Commissioner - upon the assumptions that I have mentioned, that everything had been done fraudulently, and that the tax on the company incomes could have been charged to individuals - could have charged the defendants 10 per cent, on the tax for the first three years up to 1918, and double tax for all years up to 1923-24, which amounts to the sum of £392,700, and the tax for the three years 1924-25 to 1926-27, which, in the opinion of the Commissioner and his officers was due, namely, £93,190. In other words, upon the assumptions that I have mentioned, the Commissioner was entitled to impose upon the. defendants penalties amounting to £485,891. The amount sued for was another sum of £266,000, and the facts as to that alone were before the High Court. If the court saw proper to impose full treble penalties in respect of every particular item the liability, as I think honorable members opposite estimated, would amount to £657,000.
I have already sought to inform honorable members as to the reasons why it was thought that there was no chance of getting that amount from the defendants in any contested proceedings, and why it was considered that £500,000 was a proper sum to accept. On -these facts, nobody could be certain of the proper amount of taxation payable. But 1 proceed with my account of the proceedings before the High Court. On the afternoon of the day upon which His Honour had given judgment, Sir Edward Mitchell attended before the court, and pointed out that the action before it related only to a period of three years. He explained that the agreement related to twelve years’ evasion of taxation, that the £354,000 that His Honour had mentioned related only to three years, and that of that sum only £266,000 was in issue before the court, the £500,000 relating to twelve years. This error was the foundation of the statement in the original judgment that the amount exacted was ruinous and excessive. I naturally have difficulty in discussing the judgment of the court; but I ask the indulgence of honorable members to allow me to say that, in dealing with this matter, I did not consider whether that sum of £500,000 was ruinous or not. I was, I admit, not concerned with that aspect of the case, when the defendants themselves were prepared to offer that sum. In fact, my mind never adverted to that matter; but, if it had, I would have left the defendants to consider whether or not the amount they were paying was ruinous. Many persons have been ruined by breaches of the law. His Honour was, unfortunately, plainly in error as to the facts when he gave his judgment, upon the basis of which so many comments have been made.
– The honorable member for Batman does not agree with Mr. Justice Starke in criticizing it as a ruinous payment.
– No, he takes the other view.
– I do not disagree with him. I venture to agree absolutely.
- His Honour said generally that what was pointed out to him affected only the amount. I suggest that the amount is very important, and is, indeed, an essential matter, as the foundation of a portion of the judgment originally given. His Honour said that the arrangement whereby the agreement was arrived at as to the penalties was objectionable in law, and, putting the matter shortly, was wrong. The statements made by the court raise some interesting considerations. If the court had held that the agreement was either beyond the power of the Commonwealth authorities, or was illegal because it was in breach of some definable principle of law, then, obviously, it would have been void and of no effect, and no penalties, ruinous or otherwise, would nave been imposed by it on the defendants. The court was at liberty to do what it thought proper. The position appears to be that the court’s statement was based on the opinion that the agreement was valid; that it was objectionable, originally because it was thought to be excessive, and finally, because no such agreement should have been made, but the whole matter ought to have been left to the judiciary. It seems, however, upon examination of the statement made by His Honour in adjourning the case, that the court considered that the agreement was a valid one. It is a common practice for parties to arrive at an agreement that a judgment should be obtained in certain terms. Such an agreement does not bind the court. It is still left to the court to determine the propriety of giving a judgment for one party or the other. But the court does generally give judgment for one of the parties. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth a statute was passed which prohibited the compounding of penal actions by a common informer, and that statute is in force, certainly in Victoria, and possibly in other States of the Commonwealth. A common informer could not compound an action for penalties; but it appears to be a wellestablished legal principle that the Crown is entitled to compound for sums due to the Crown recoverable on penal action. The law was not argued at all before His Honour, and, therefore, I have not the benefit of a discussion upon it, nor of a judgment of the court; but apparently the action taken by the court shows that the document stands as a valid agreement. The matter is now under, consideration as to whether it is necessary or desirable to take further proceedings for the purpose of clarifying the law. It -would appear that no practical object is to be gained by pursuing the matter further. The revenue has been adequately safeguarded, and the actions of the defendants have been fully exposed. Every man and woman in Australia is aware of the frauds committed. The defendants have suffered large penalties which, while fully punishing them for their offence, will act as a powerful deterrent upon any one inclined to imitate them. Indeed, I understand that the action taken has already had a wholesome effect in that direction.
I venture to suggest that, if the advisors of the Government had adopted any other course they would have laid themselves open to keen criticism. It would have been said that the Government had embarked upon long and expensive litigation with very doubtful results, in which there would be long delays, with little chance of a conviction, and relatively small advantage to the revenue. If that course had been followed, and it had subsequently been, revealed that the defendants had offered to admit the offences with which they werecharged, and to pay £500,000 to the revenue, there would have been a positive storm of criticism. It would have been said that the Government was guilty of vindictive conduct in pursuing these men,’ that such a procedure would have been void of common sense, and regardless of the revenue and interests of the country. The action of the Government was taken after the fullest consideration., after obtaining the best advice obtainable, with a full sense of responsibility, and with the principles to which the honorable member for Batman has alluded very clearly in mind. I ask the House to say that the allegations made in this motion are not supported, and to say, further, that the best and wisest course was adopted by the Government in circumstances which, I think honorable members will admit, were circumstances of very great difficulty.
.- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) served the public interest by raising this question in Parliament today, and had he- failed in this he would not have been doing his duty by tho people of Australia. There is a clear indictment running right through his speech. An issue has been raised which ought not to be evaded by the AttorneyGeneral, or by any other representative of the Government; but it has been evaded. There has been spun around the whole question a cobweb of evasion andlegal jargon. Nevertheless, there stands out this one plain issue, which the Attorney-General has not answered, for the simple reason that he cannot do so. There were three persons in this conntry, known to the Government to be criminals, who have not been prosecuted, and whom no attempt has been made to prosecute, under the criminal law. Arguments have been submitted to show the difficulty of conducting a prosecution, but if difficulties were allowed to stand in the way 50 per cent, of the criminals now charged in our courts would never be prosecuted at all. In many cases the charges are not proved because of the difficulties in the way, but that is not a reason for failing to prosecute. I put it to the Attorney-General that if these gentlemen had not come down handsomely with £500,000, no amount of difficulty would have prevented them from being prosecuted. The Attorney-General, in his criticisms of Mr. Justice Starke, said that there was no precedent for a judge not giving judgment, either for the defendant or f6r the plaintiff. Perhaps not, but I venture the opinion that there is no precedent in the records of the courts for the present case.. That is the point that His Honour stressed. The Attorney-General endeavoured to show that the judge was under a misapprehension. Let me emphasize this point to show the soundness of the opinion given by Mr. Justice Starke. The judge never once wavered right through the proceedings from the original stand which he took up that it was not within the province of the Government to usurp the powers and functions of the court. The AttorneyGeneral has admitted that these investigations go back to 1918, or even to 1917, when officers of the department first got on to the track oi the defendants because they made the initial blunder of their career in testing the assessment of the Commissioner of Taxation. The Attorney-General further said that in 1924 they were satisfied that there was serious fraud. They were satisfied in 1924 even before they saw the documents which subsequently came into their possession. Then two of the Abrahams, ho said, left the country by some means or. other. That, I say, is one of the worst of the half-dozen evasions of which the Attorney-General has been guilty to-day. One would imagine that we had read nothing about the matter, and that the only person who knew anything concerning it was the Attorney-General. What was done in regard to the departureof these men from Australia? The officers of the Taxation Department were satisfied in 1924 that there was serious fraud. Yet in 1925 these men left Australia, although they had at that time on their track an officer of the department specially detailed to watch them.
– That is not true, so far as I know. I was told that no officer had been detailed to watch them.
– That makes the indictment even stronger, because, on the Attorney-General’s own admission, the department was satisfied in 1924 that there was serious fraud; yet no watch was put upon the men concerned.
– It would be necessary to watch hundreds of suspects if that course was generally followed.
– A story concerning the departure of Emanuel Abrahams was circulated at that time.
– It is very doubtful ifit was true. We are trying to find out.
– Is the right honorable gentleman satisfied now that the man has left Australia? Apparentlyhe cannot say whether the man has left the country, or where he is, hut he can accept a plea of guilty from him, and enter into an agreement with him.
– If the honorable gentleman will look at the agreement, he will see that it was entered into by an attorney for the defendant.
– The AttorneyGeneral ought to know that no attorney can sign an agreement on behalf of any one until he has secured the authority of the person concerned. If there is a criminal action pending, and an attorney knows the whereabouts of the person charged, he can be dealt with in order to make him disclose that knowledge. Who is shelter ing this man? That is another matter which ought to be investigated. Writs were issued against the defendants, and pleas were entered by them. The defence was practically that they would plead guilty to anything with which they were charged. The legal representatives of the Government say, in effect, “ We cannot find the defendants, but we can enter into an agreement with them.” How does the Attorney-General know that this precious agreement will ever be honoured? What proof has he that it will ever be carried out.
– We have £200,000 worth of securities, and guarantees for the rest.
– How does the right honorable gentleman know that Emanuel Abrahams will not turn up and repudiate this agreement?
– I should be very glad to see him.
– Honorable members opposite think that that is humorous, because every member who sits behind the Government knows that these men are criminals, and that there is no chance of their ever coming back and repudiating the agreement lest they should suffer the penalty of their offence. If they had not come back, and no £200,000 had been made available, an attempt would have been made by the Government to find and prosecute them. Just imagine the head of the legal departmentof the Government saying that it was not advisable to pursue the defendants because it would be necessary to obtain their extradition, a course which would involve expense and delay. If some poor unfortunate person, probably as a result of his circumstances and environment, committed a burglary, stealing, perhaps, only £10, he would be extradited from whatever country he may have fled to,no matter what the time or expense involved. The wheels of the law would be set in motion, and assistance of all the criminal investigation organizations of the world would, if necessary, be invoked for the purpose of bringing that person back to Australia. The Government is not able to declare to this House that it has made the slightest attempt tofind these departed persons, or to bring them to justice.
– Attempts were made.
– The AttorneyGeneral gave a reason why a certain important document was not produced, and his was the most specious argument to which I have ever listened. He said that it was the universal practice not to disclose counsel’s opinion, and yet it is on counsel’s opinion that the Government, has acted. He buttressed that argument with ;the further plea that if ‘the Government made available the opinions of counsel, it would give away its case to the other side. He said that litigation was still before the court. But is it? Is there any intention on the part of the Government to prosecute these persons on a criminal charge or to take any further action against them? I say quite definitely that there is not. Thus the argument of the AttorneyGeneral is specious. The case has been taken out of the field of litigation by the signing of this agreement. The AttorneyGeneral in supporting the action of the Government made one short extract from the opinions which had been obtained from counsel.
– I did not read a word from the opinions of counsel. I have not them before me.
– If that is so I withdraw the statement.
– All that I did was to recite a few words from the preamble of the agreement, which was based upon the opinion of counsel.
– I accept the statement of the Attorney-General, but I submit that ho had no right to mention in this discussion the names of the eminent barristers to whom he has referred or to shelter behind them.
– I have done nothing of the kind. I have said that the Government obtained the opinions of counsel and considered them before making this agreement.
– I wish that the AttorneyGeneral would stop quibbling. He has said in this House more than once that in this matter the Government has acted upon the opinion of counsel. He knows very well that he would not be permitted in any law court in Australia to refer to a document which he did not intend to present to the court. The Counsel whose nAMES he has mentioned are honorable members of their profession. If the Government acted upon their opinions we should be given access to them. The Attorney-General has admitied that during the investigations into the transactions of these brothers, evidence of definite fraud was discovered. He has also stated that even a partial scrutiny of the documents was sufficient to con-, vince the department that serious frauds had been committed. Why then should there be any difficulty in proving the facts in a law court?
– The difficulty would be to prove, not fraud but conspiracy.
– I shall come to that point in a moment. It has been said that the Abrahams brothers have not been granted immunity from prosecution. It is true that no specific provision in the agreement grants such immunity, but it is unquestionably implied. On the statements of the investigation officer. Mr. Birch, and the Attorney-General, to-day, these persons have defied and obstructed the department for years, and even went to the extent of forcing the officers of the Crown to blow up safes which contained their papers, when they could quite easily have handed over their keys. That shows the utter contempt and contumely with which they have treated the department. It is a significant fact that immediately the Abrahams’ books and documents came into the possession of the Crown, the representatives of these law-breakers took steps to arrange terms of settlement. One of the terms of agreement is that immediately upon the completion of the agreement their books and documents should be returned. In other words the Crown undertakes to return the only evidence it has upon which it could sustain a criminal charge. Does not that imply immunity from criminal prosecution ? The provision can bear no other interpretation. The Government says. in effect that in consideration of these criminals paying a certain amount of money, it will return to them the evidence against them to obtain which it had to blow open their safes.
– It may be possible to prove fraud but not conspiracy.
– I do not intend to avoid that point. My present submission is that there is definitely and clearly implied in this agreement complete immunity from prosecution. The AttorneyGeneral has said that conspiracy means an agreement to commit an offence, and that he is not aware of any case in which a charge of conspiracy has been laid when the offence itself is charged. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) says that it may .be possible to prove fraud but not conspiracy. On that point I am quite content to rest on the words of Mr. Justice Starke. He says -
It is plain on this material that the defendants operated together and possibly with others systematically to defraud the Commonwealth.
– It is one thing to make such a statement and another thing to prove it.
– Does the honorable member imagine that Mr. Justice Starke is a fool? I do not. His Honour had much more evidence before him than we have before us. Surely that statement indicates that there was substantial evidence of conspiracy. His Honour also made this observation:
The whole case seems to be based on a conspiracy. If there is a serious and widespread conspiracy the penalty is not a very desirable punishment for it. The punishment should be imprisonment.
His Honour then asked this pertinent question : “ Why were they not prosecuted for conspiracy?” He was not nearly as timid about it as the AttorneyGeneral or the honorable member for Warringah, or the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) seem to be. I assure the Government that the people of Australia will want a reply to the question which His Honour asked and which the Attorney-General has not successfully answered. The AttorneyGeneral spoke learnedly about certain section of the Income Tax Act. I am fairly familiar with that measure, for it is one which I have endeavoured to understand. The Attorney-General made accurate quotations from its provisions; but I point out that the statements he made this afternoon were made to Mr. Justice Starke by counsel for the Government, Sir Edward Mitchell, K.C. ; but they did not appear to ‘ carry much weight with him. It is true that the legislature in 1922 provided that imprisonment should no longer be a punishment for frauds and other offences committed under the Income Tax Act. But I can answer the Attorney-General’s submission in this respect in no better words than those used by His Honour, Mr. Justice Starke. Sir Edward Mitchell, during the discussion on this point, said, “ In the Income Tax Act there is no provision for imprisonment.” His Honour then pertinently observed, “ There is the Crimes Act.” I suggest to the Attorney-General that he might give consideration to another section of the Crimes Act, under which it would not be necessary to prove conspiracy to gain a verdict against the Abrahams brothers on a criminal charge. Section 29b of the act reads-
Any person who imposes or endeavours to impose upon the Commonwealth or any public authority under the Commonwealth by any untrue representation, made either’ verbally or in writing, wit] i a view to obtain money or any other benefit or advantage, shall be guilty of an offence. Penalty: Imprisonment for two years.
Under that provision it would only be necessary to prove that these persons had endeavoured by untrue representation to obtain some benefit from the Commonwealth. The Attorney-General made his greatest hit with his followers to-day, when he quoted Mr. Justice Starke’s expression of opinion, that the monetary penalties were extortionate. But I will quote the text of His Honour’s remarks -
These extortionate penalties seem to be out of proportion. A reasonable inference would be that they should have been committed to gaol. ‘
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell)’ did not display his usual acuteness by interjecting at that point in the Attorney-General’s speech that the honorable member for Batman did not accept Mr. Justice Starke’s opinion on the question. We contend that His Honour expressed the firm conviction that these law breakers should have been prosecuted for conspiracy. His Honour asked why he was asked to enter judgment in the proposed terms, if the sum of money which was to be paid to the Government was more than it was entitled to receive. He observed that the Government was asking for something like £250,000 more than it could legally claim. The only reason that was advanced why ‘ the payment of such a sum should be ‘provided for was, “ We have been offered it.” When His Honour said that it was a ruinous and extortionate penalty, counsel observed that the court was under a misapprehension, and that although the frauds complained of had extended over a period of twelve years, the Government was only being recouped for losses which had extended over three years. That shows quite definitely that the Government was dealing with these persons with kid gloves. Legally, of course, it could only sue for amounts due over a period of three years, but the Commissioner had power to double the unpaid taxation and could have claimed about £700,000. An effort was made to convince the judge, when he introduced this point, that so far from the penalty being ruinous and extortionate, it was really lenient. Nevertheless His Honour refused to enter judgment, because of the fundamental objection he had to what he had called the objectionable features of the whole arrangement. He stated, as I have said, that the payment to the Crown of £500,000 was more than the Crown was really entitled to, for evasions of the Income Tax Act over a period of three years. His Honour said -
These extortionate penalties seem to be out of proportion.
– His Honour there was speaking of’ the Act itself.
Mr.SCULLIN.- Exactly. On the facts presented to His Honour, the penalties were extortionate. He went on to say -
A reasonable inference would be that they - [the Abrahams Brothers] - should have been committed to gaol.
– The Crown then would have got nothing.
– Does the honorable member for Franklin suggest that that is a reason why the law should not be allowed to take its normal course? Does he say that if a sufficient sum of money passes, the person committing a crime shall be allowed to escape prosecution? May I put it to the honorable member that if a person robbed him of £100, and he declined to continue an action because the guilty person had paid him £200, he would be charged with compounding a felony. The AttorneyGeneral said to-day, in emphasis of this aspect of the case, that it “would be difficult for the Crown to prove the offence. When that point was put to His Honour by Sir Edward Mitchell, Mr. Justice Starke said -
That is not for the Attorney-General to decide. That is for the jury to decide. By getting extreme penalties you allow them to escape gaol.
That is the crux of the question. The issue cannot be evaded by the AttorneyGeneral and this Government. Dealing still with the question of “ extortionate penalties,” His Honour said, and his words are so much to the point that it does not require a legal mind to grasp them -
They- he was referring to Abraham brothers - might think that it was well worth£500,000 in preference to being prosecuted criminally.
Naturally, they would take that view, and so would any criminal in similar circumstances. His Honour goes on to say, and his remarks have particular application to the action of this Government -
You firstarrive at a compromise and then ask the court to inflict penalties which you have inflicted yourself…. In addition, it looks very much as if there was an understanding that these people will not be prosecuted.
The Attorney-General to-day chided the honorable member for Batman for not having quoted Mr. Justice Starke’s reasons for refusing to give judgment. What His Honour said in effect was that he accepted the assurance of counsel that no guarantee had been given of immunity from prosecution. But the Attorney-General himself did not quote the whole of His Honour’s comments,nor, I think, did the honorable member for Batman quote all that was in support of his case.
– I was under the impression that the honorable member for Batman did quote them.
– His Honour said further -
It looks as if not much attention had been paid to the injury done to the public-
That is the kernel of the whole question, and it emphasizes the point which I made a little while ago -
If a private citizen did this, there might be something said.
What did His Honour mean? Clearly what was in His Honour’s mind was that if a private individual had entered into such an arrangement he would have been charged with compounding a felony. Nevertheless that is what the Crown has done. Apparently the Crown takes the view that it may do something which a private individual may not do. The AttorneyGeneral .also went on to emphasize that one reason why the Crown had decided not to prosecute was that it would take eighteen months to examine the documents. Suppose- it would take eighteen months, is that a reason why there should be no prosecution? The evidence is clear on the point that these frauds date back at least twelve years. A zealous officer of the Taxation Department had been working on these cases since 1918, and as the honorable member for Batman has shown, during the whole of that time he was treated with contempt and contumely. He made one attempt after another to get evidence to justify a prosecution, and when the case had been prepared the Attorney-General, speaking for the Government, in effect said - “We will not prosecute, because it would take eighteen months to examine the documents.” The reason advanced by the Minister is, of course, too absurd for serious consideration. If it would take the departmental experts eighteen months to examine them, there would not be sufficient room, in the business premises of the firm to hold all the documents and books associated with these fraudulent practices. As I have said, it took ten -years to gather the evidence of fraud, and yet when this was in the possession of the Crown it accepted £500,000 in settlement of its claims, and handed the books back to the firm. We have been told by one of the officers that when the first offer was made by Abrahams brothers it was declined, the departmental officer stating that before accepting the offer the department wished to make a hasty examination of the documents. Before there was time to make even that hasty examination, there came another offer of more money. The senior investigating officer, Mr. Robert James Birch, in a sworn statement concerning his inquiry into this case, says -
Many returns were lodged fraudulently. Many returns were made pursuant to a conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth and to evade provisions of the Income Tax Acts, and contrary to the provisions of the Crimes
Books and documents were wilfuly concealed from me….. In 1917 Louis
Abrahams appealed in Western Australia against an assessment, and was unsuccessful. As a result of investigations in Western Australia, I formed the opinion that extensive frauds were being committed by Alfred, Emanuel, and Louis Abrahams.
– The .honorable member, will observe that Mr. Birch swears as to his belief that frauds were being committed by the persons mentioned.
– Exactly. Mr. Birch goes on to say that in 1925 he came to .Melbourne, paid a number of surprise visits to Abrahams brothers’ premises and discovered certain documents not previously produced, because they had been withheld from him during his former investigation. He added that other books seen on! former occasions had since been mutilated. He stated further that while he was making these investigations he received a telephone message from the department instructing him to return at once to the office, but suspecting a ruse, be refused to leave, and learned subsequently that no telephone instruction had -been sent to him from the department. These were the methods which these people employed to prevent the investigations from being made. Mr. Birch goes on to state that in 1925 Emanuel Abrahams, whom they were examining, became ill. As a result the examination was postponed, and Emanuel Abrahams surreptitiously left Australia. In August of last year a warrant was issued under the Crimes Act for a search to be made; but the officers were obstructed in every possible way. Safes had to be blown open, as has been described, in order to make the investigation, the keys to the safes being held by the defendants. Mr. Birch gives further evidence as to a number of fictitious shareholders in concerns controlled by this precious band. Among them was “Henry Abrahams,” who was described as a shareholder in several companies, for which there were 30 separate banking accounts. ‘ An inquiry disclosed that Henry Abrahams was :be father of the Abrahams brothers, and had died in 1886 - 42 years ago. Another shareholder was Francis Cohen, who could not be traced. Still another was Albert Abrahams, and the only information that could be obtained about him was that he was a brother, but had died in infancy, 40 years ago. These are the people for whom consideration and distinction are being shown by this Government. Contrast their treatment with that which would be meted out to other citizens of the Commonwealth, who had offended against its laws. These are the people who, we are informed, will not be required to take their place in the dock and answer the charges so clearly set . out by the honorable member for Batman to-day. The indictment of the honorable member for Batman was totally misrepresented by the Attorney-General, who suggested that the honorable member for Batman wished the Abrahams brothers to be proceeded against in the police court, where the maximum penalty would be a fine of £200.
– That, al all events, was the inference to be drawn from the. remarks of the Attorney-General.
– I did not deal with that aspect of the case at all. I was referring to a prosecution under section 66 of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
– What the AttorneyGeneral tried to fasten upon the honorable member for Batman was that the latter wished Abrahams brothers to be brought before the police court, where the maximum fine would be £200. If that is noi; what the Attorney-General meant I shall be glad to know what was the inference to be drawn from his remarks. Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– When the House adjourned for dinner I was referring to the point made by the honorable member for Batman that there was a glaring dis- tinction between the treatment meted out to the agents of the Abrahams brothers and that meted out to the principals themselves. The seven “ dummies “ were prosecuted for actions committed by them iu connexion with these frauds. The marked difference between the treatment of those men and that of the Abrahams brothers was clearly demonstrated in the speech of the honorable member for Batman. The Attorney-General questioned the accuracy . of the honorable member’s statement, and because the honorable member for Batman adhered to his legal interpretation as well as to his commonsense deductions, he got into trouble with the Deputy Speaker, who was on the point of “ naming “ him. I wish in passing to drive home a further point made by the honorable member for Batman, which the Attorney-General was at some pains to disprove, as to the differentiation in the treatment of the Abrahams brothers and their “ dummies.” Even Alfred Abrahams, the only brother in Australia, and so the only one who could have appeared before the court, was not placed in the dock. But the seven “ dummies “ were. They were subjected to the humiliation of appearing in the dock and pleading guilty to the charges levelled against them. The further differentiation was that the seven “ dummies “ were prosecuted on criminal charges, while the Abrahams brothers were merely subjected to a civil action brought against them for the recovery of certain sums of money. The one was proceeded against on “ information “ and the other on “ action.” The difference between the two processes is explained by the definitions of the terms, as they appear in Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary. They are - “ Actions.” - This is a generic term and means a litigation in a’ civil court for the recovery of individual right or redress of individual wrong……..
Honorable members will note that ar. “ action “ is taken in the civil and not the criminal court. It was a civil court in which the Abrahams brothers were called upon to appear. The writ reads -
We command that within fourteen days after the service of this writ on you, inclusive of the day of its service, you do cause an appearance to be entered for you in our High Court of Australia in an action, at the suit of the Attorney-General of the Australian Commonwealth and the Commissioner of Taxation.
This is the definition of the term “ information “ - ;
The term “ information “ is of well-defined meaning; whether it be in writing or ore terms, is understood to be the initiatory step in proceedings of a criminal nature which are to be disposed of summarily,……
Honorable members will appreciate the difference in the meaning of the two terms. The latter was the type of action taken against the seven “ dummies.” It is well to keep those definitions well in mind. Apparently those who are sufficiently wealthy are not brought into the dock and proceeded against on “ information.” They are proceeded againston “ action.” If they fail to appear, as did the Abrahams brothers, a warrant cannot be issued causing them to appear and take theirplaces in the dock. But under the procedure followed in the case of the seven subordinates, the agents and “ dummies “ of the Abrahams brothers, those persons could have been arrested on warrant had they failed to appear. The Attorney-General indicated that no further action is to be taken in this case, although judgment has not been entered by the judge.
– I said that the matter was receiving consideration; but that it appeared that little, if any, purpose could be achieved by proceeding with the action.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral to read the Hansard report of his speech. He will then see that he stated that further action was not contemplated. The honorable gentleman thereby indicated that the Government has again fallen down on its job. Why did the Government go to the court? It is interesting to read the statement of counsel briefed by the Commonwealth Government. The Judge asked why counsel came to him, since the Government had entered into an agreement. Counsel said, “ We come to the court to obtain judgment in regard to the balance of the money which amounts to about £300,000.” The question that naturally arises in the mind of the average person is that if there was no implied agreement that these people should escape from criminal prosecution, provided that they offered sufficiently attractive terms - and altogether three offers, the last reaching £500,000, were made - why did they agree to the maximum penalty that could be imposed on them under the income taxation law? In all probability the £500,000 offered is £200,000 in excess of the maximum penalty provided. Were those men philanthropists, anxious to make a donation to the Commonwealth to help it over stringent times? Only one commonsense inference can be drawn. The Judge is accustomed to trying cases and sifting evidence, and he was not deceived. Nor will the public of Australia be deceived by any legal phraseology uttered by the Attorney-General in the endeavour to cloak the actions of the Government. The Abrahams brothers agreed to pay the maximum penalty, and something in addition, merely because they saw looming in the future a criminal prosecution - and gaol. That was suggested by the Judge in the most unmistakable terms. The whole argument of the AttorneyGeneral stressed one thing. He said “ We would have found it very difficult to prove a criminal charge.” What a weak case the honorable gentleman apparently considered the Crown had! I ask honorable members to go through the files dealing with the case, to read the sworn information of the officers of the department, and then ask themselves whether the Government had a weak case. Honorable members should bear in mind, particularly, the fact that the moment that the department laid its hands on the books and documents the Abrahams brothers made an offer to settle, an offer which finally assumed the enormous dimensions of £500,000. They agreed to plead guilty to any charge levelled against them, including that of fraud, and practically gave the Commissioner of Taxation carte blanche to make any assessment. If they were not satisfied that there was something more to be feared they were the most accommodating defendants of which I have any knowledge. The Attorney-General said : “ Had we prosecuted them, we should have been charged with vindictiveness.”
– I said that if we had adopted the course suggested by the honorablemember for Batman, and prosecuted for conspiracy, that would have been so. As it was they were proceeded against in the High Court.
– What is the difference between the meaning of my words and those of the honorable gentleman ?
– They were prosecuted in the High Court.
– In a civil action. The honorable gentleman intimated that had they been prosecuted on a criminal charge the Government would have been charged with vindictiveness.
– That is not a correct rendering of my statement.
– What did the honorable member say?
– Order !
– The honorable member was very anxious to interupt me a little while ago, but he is not keen to repeat what he said. He certainly intimated that if the Abrahams brothers had been proceeded against on a criminal charge the Government would have been accused of vindictiveness and that statement brought upon him the ridicule and laughter of honorable members. Let him deny that. I ask him by whom would the Government have been charged with vindictiveness? Only by the tax evaders of this country, and there are a number of them. This case is not an isolated one. Exposures have been made previously of tax evaders receiving lenient treatment from the Government. If the Abrahams family escaped detection for twelve years there must be many other tax evaders still undetected. Had this been a case of pilfering on a wharf the department would have prosecuted with the greatest severity, and the judge would have dealt harshly with the unfortunates concerned. Is this Government so afraid of a charge of vindictiveness? It did not seem so very much afraid of such a charge when dealing with the deportation cases. Because the men concerned were industrialists and belonged to the working class of Australia, because they were unable to find £500,000 to adjust matters, they were subjected to very harsh treatment by the Government. When an honorable member of the Opposition interjected this afternoon, calling attention to the vast difference between the treatment meted out to those industrialists and to these self-confessed scoundrels, an honorable member on the Government side - I believe it was the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), stigmatized the suggestion as an unworthy one. It would have been had it not been based upon fact. The Attorney-General claims that it would have been difficult to prove a marge of conspiracy having regard to the law of evidence. He was not troubled about the law of evidence when he wished to deport industrialists. Those men were taken, not before a judge and jury, but before a special board appointed by this Government to deal with them.
– What had I to do with that ? I was then only a private member. I ask the honorable member to be reasonably accurate.
– It was the action of the honorable gentleman and his party. The honorable gentleman voted for the appointment of that board, and throughout the last election campaign justified his action on the ground that, although these men were guilty, their guilt could not be proved according to the law of evidence.
– That is true.
– These men whom the Government sought to deport were working men. Whether they were right or wrong, they at least were fighting the battles of the working class.
– Working men!
– Yes; they were championing the cause of the working men of this country, and at least were entitled to a trial similar to that to which we say that the Abrahams brothers should be. submitted. We have never suggested that industrialists should not be brought before the courts if they have committed an offence against the law. Our contention was that the men in question should have been taken before a judge and jury in the manner prescribed by the Constitution of Australia. That has not been done with the Abrahams brothers. The Government will not bring these self-confessed criminals before the courts to be prosecuted under the criminal law. There is nothing unworthy in stating a fact. The” hear, hear “ just uttered by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is unworthy of him. He ought to remain silent. He would not have given Walsh and Johnson a trial; he said he would have taken them to sea on a war boat in the dead of night, and would have seen that they never returned.
– That is a foul slander, and is unworthy of the honorable member.
– I am merely repeating a statement that was published at the time in a newspaper to which the honorable member contributed articles.
– The honorable member is destitute of a case.
– The honorable member may have written this particular paragraph himself. These are the people who talk about vindictiveness when it is a question of prosecuting persons who for twelve years have defrauded the revenues of this country, and who raised against the officers of the department every obstruction that lay to their hands. Vindictiveness, indeed ! We on this side are not alone in our views on this case; we are supported by the highest authority that can give an opinion on the’ case, and that is the judge of the High Court who heard it. We have the support also of a large section of the public, and the press of Australia. Let me quote what the Melbourne Age said on the 9th March last. It referred to the “ labyrinth of .mystery and huckstering” which surrounded the case, and said that “ all such bargaining with alleged defaulters is most indiscreet.” It went on to say -
The implicit suggestion is that in certain circumstances “ terms “ can be arranged.
That is a strong indictment. The Melbourne Herald, whose opinion I suppose the honorable member for Henty will not question, had the following to say on the 9 th March last-
The action of the Crown cannot be. condemned too strongly. It was an egregious error. It was an attitude that entirely ignored very vital principles of law and justice, and that thoroughly deserved the sharp rap on the knuckles that had been administered by the High Court.
If went on to say -
The whole circumstances partake of arranging justice in camera.
Further on it said-
We say without hesitation that the Crown has at no time arid in no circumstances any right to sanction compromise where there is a prima facie case for criminal prosecution.
It concluded by saying -
A high official of the Customs Department was accused of action that should certainly have led to a criminal prosecution. A secret departmental inquiry was held. The official was dismissed from the service, but no public prosecution followed. The public has a right to complain. No officer of the Crown can be permitted to take the administration of the law out of the hands of the judiciary, either for reasons of expediency or to protect the workings of a Government department from public scrutiny.
That is a severe indictment. In conclusion, I would say that when the AttorneyGeneral attempted, to prove that Mr. Justice Starke considered that the action of the Government was oppressive he endeavoured to mislead the public in regard to the attitude which the judge adopted. I repeat what I said earlier: The judge did say that the monetary penalties were extortionate, but he went on to suggest that the Abrahams brothers were willing to pay those extortionate monetary penalties in order that they might be freed from a criminal prosecution .which would render them liable to be sent to gaol. Reading the two statements side by side, there is no suggestion that the judge considered that they were not being let off lightly. On the contrary he said in very definite language that they should have been prosecuted as criminals. He asked Sir Edward Mitchell why they had not been prosecuted criminally. I join with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), in charging the Government with having taken a wrong action. The plea that these men had made restitution, that they were advanced in years, and that they were in ill health, ought to have been made to the judge who had the duty of passing sentence upon them. It is not within the province of any departmental officer, any AttorneyGeneral, or any Government, to say when clemency shall be meted out. That action was taken because these people came along with a. large sum of money. The excuse is that it might otherwise have been lost to the Commonwealth. That is a dangerous argument. Action of this kind will shake the confidence of the people in the administration by this Government of the criminal law of Australia.
.- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), has invited the members of the legal profession who sit on this side to vote with him, on the ground that the historic institutions of justice are in danger. He has not suggested that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham), is tampering with justice,’ or that he is actuated by improper motives. Neither has he suggested that that gentleman is not an honest man, or that he is not fit to be entrusted with the administration of. justice. On the contrary, he was fair enough to avow more than once his absolute confidence in the Attorney-General and to say that that honorable gentleman could be relied upon not to abuse his knowledge and his long experience at the bar by misleading any person. If the ends of justice are not being defeated, then the administration of justice is not in danger.
Honorable members opposite chose, with care, the advocates of their case. They relegated to the background those by whom they are ordinarily led, and put forward their most brilliant controversialists as special pleaders. They brought to their aid cuttings from newspapers which, in times gone by, they condemned with the utmost contempt. They picked out scraps of tittle tattle and the most miserable type of newspaper paragraph that could be found. But despite all this there has been not the slightest suggestion that the administration of justice has been tampered with by either the AttorneyGeneral or the Government. If there was a scintilla of evidence to support such a suggestion I should have no hesitation in arraying myself against the Government and helping to turn it out.
– The honorable member would not do anything of the kind.
– I recognize that honorable members opposite do not know what freedom of action means, and that they have not the courage to claim it. They know perfectly well that if they are not obedient to the crack of the whip they will share the fate that awaits the honorable member for West Sydney.
But I must not drift away from the thread of my argument. I support the Government on the present- occasion because there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that the fountain of justice in this country is being tampered with. Not one honorable member doubts the honesty or the sincerity of the Attorney-General. Whether they agree with his action cr not, they are not prepared to suggest that he was influenced by motives which should not actuate the ministerial head of the department of justice. That being so, the idea that I should cross the floor and enjoy the pleasant association of honorable members opposite for the purpose of passing condemnation on the Attorney-
General is altogether too ludicrous to entertain.
– The Government, not the Attorney-General alone.
– The Attorney-General has accepted full responsibility. The Government acted upon his advice.
– He is very generous, but he cannot accept the whole of the responsibility.
– The Government has to depend upon some officer. If that officer should happen to be the Attorney-General, and if anything should be .found wrong with his department, the responsibility must rest with him. I would be as ready as any one to fire out either this or any other Attorney-General who was found guilty of “monkeying” with our system of justice. I challenge any honorable member ‘to produce a tittle of evidence impugning the honesty of the present Attorney-General.
The question that we have to decide is a very simple one. It is not necessary that we should read the mass of ill-digested, ill-selected material that has been taken from publications in the library and newspapers in Melbourne. The Attorney-General discovered that certain persons, whom honorable members opposite call, gentlemen, had for years been evading payment of taxation. There may be many other similar offenders who have not been discovered, but these in particular were of a very crafty and notable type. No one has suggested - not even the special pleaders who have put the case for the Opposition - that the Attorney-General has not backed his officers up to the hilt. He discovered that there were certain defalcations which had been going on for years, and had all the evidence placed before him. He was faced with quite a number of difficulties. The fact that he consulted five of the leading barristers in Victoria is sufficient evidence of. the existence of those difficulties.
– Does the honorable member know what those barristers said about the matter?
– I know that the AttorneyGeneral said that they advised him. The honorable member is not prepared to deny that it is necessary for the administrator of the department to obtain assistance in a case of this character. The AttorneyGeneral had to depute others to sift the documents and ascertain what evidence was available against these offenders. To what better authority could he have referred than five of the leading barristers in Victoria?
The honorable member for Yarra devoted a good deal of time to repeating the observations df Mr. Justice Starke and built, a whole edifice of argument upon a little patch of shifting sand. He quoted over and over again, as if it were of the utmost importance, Mr. Justice Starke’s remark “ The whole case seems to be based on conspiracy.” The honorable member did not emphasize the word “ seems.” The judge had not gone into the evidence and could not be expected to understand at a cursory glance, the mass of papers, books, accounts and other data with which the case is supported, and the sifting of which had occupied learned counsel for a long time. From the superficial information at his disposal His Honor said that the case seemed to be based on conspiracy; it merely seemed to him as it seems to us. Not very long ago it seemed to the Attorney-General that there was evidence and legal authority to justify the deportation of Walsh and Johnson, but when the matter was taken to the court the law was held to be unconstitutional and a case that seemed to be strong, proved to be very weak. In connexion with the Abraham frauds also what seems like a conspiracy may not be capable of legal proof. The Attorney- ‘ General has told us that on the evidence before them, the legal experts advised the Crown that a prosecution for conspiracy could not be undertaken with any assurance of success. .
The honorable members for Batman and Yarra have complained that two of the Abraham brothers were allowed to leave the Commonwealth. The Attorney-General has already explained that they were’ spirited out of the country. Is he blameworthy because these men managed to flee the Commonwealth without passports? I remind honorable members opposite that a former member of this Parliament is supposed to have left these shores, although it is not suggested that he got away with the aid of a passport. No honorable member would be so stupid as to blame the Attorney-General because two tax-evaders managed to get out of Australia before evidence of their offences could be obtained. At the time they left the Commonwealth the AttorneyGeneral had no evidence’ to justify proceedings against them.
– The Attorney-General said that there was such evidence.
– He made it perfectly clear that the evidence was not in his possession at the time, and that even now the evidence available is not sufficient to ensure that if they were prosecuted for conspiracy a conviction would be obtained. One must first see the hare before one can shoot it, and if the offenders cannot be found, how stupid it is to censure the Attorney-General for not prosecuting them. I have never known honorable members opposite to be more relentless than they are in this bloodthirsty desire to pursue these offenders to the ends of the earth. And for what purpose ?
– For political gain.
– Not to ensure that justice will be done, but solely in order to impose double punishment upon them. I remind the honorable member for Batman and his colleagues that it is inconsistent with British law to punish a person twice for the one offence.
– It is the practice for persons convicted of a crime to be asked to give back the spoils.
– In this instance the offenders have been compelled by ‘the Attorney-General to surrender the spoil. They have flown beyond the reach of the law, and the evidence necessary to ensure their conviction, even if they could be apprehended, is not available. How stupid it is, therefore, to censure the AttorneyGeneral for not having done something which could not possibly be done.
Is it suggested that the honorable gentleman sympathized with these crooked Jew millionaires, and that’ he was working in collusion with them? A Minister guilty of such practice could not be allowed to remain in office for a moment. But not even honorable members opposite have suggested that the Attorney-General had any improper interest in these proceedings.
On the contrary, he has shown that he had a wholehearted desire to make these tax-evaders pay into the Treasury as quickly as possible all that could be obtained from them.
– What have they paid ?
– I understand that they agreed to pay £500,000, of which £200,000 was paid as a first instalment, and securities were given for the balance.
The Attorney-General not having been able to lay hold of two of the offenders, and being uncertain of a conviction for conspiracy, did all that was possible in the circumstances to have full reparation made to the Commonwealth Treasury. All honour is due to him for what he achieved, and any person who reviews the proceedings will admit that he showed a great deal of skill and business acumen in bringing the proceedings to so successful a conclusion. If he had not insisted upon these men repaying to the uttermost farthing what they owed to the Commissioner ‘ of Taxation, honorable members might have had some grounds for complaint, but he did all that was humanly possible to get the best deal for the Commonwealth and, instead of being con-‘ demned, should be congratulated. The honorable member for Yarra was amazed at the suggestion that eighteen months might be occupied in thoroughly sifting the mass of documentary evidence relating to the case. If the honorable member had experience of big law cases he would know that in some of them the sifting of evidence takes much longer than eighteen months. I remind him of the interminable chancery proceedings described by Dickens in Bleak House, and of modern litigation in which counsel have been engaged for years. It is not possible to employ 100 men to sift accounts relating to a single subject. Half a dozen men might be put on the job of collating and arranging the evidence, but finally the whole must be co-ordinated, condensed, and mastered by one brain. I have known two or three years to be occupied in preparing the evidence for an action at law. The criticism of the AttorneyGeneral in this regard is not fair. This attack upon him is liable to be misunderstood by people outside Parliament who do not know his character or our high opinion of his integrity; they will be apt to think that he has been trying to hide something of which he is ashamed, whereas we know that he has been doing his duty frankly and fearlessly. The honorable member for Yarra also asked why the Government had approached the court. If the Attorney-General was doing anything improper or desired to hide something of which he was ashamed, he would not have approached the court; he would have resorted to intrigue behind the scenes such as occurred in West Sydney recently. The very fact that he took the agreement into court to get it confirmed is the best evidence that he was honestly desirous of conserving the country’s interest and bringing the whole transaction into the light of day so that there could be no misunderstanding of the actions of himself or the Government. The remark of Mr. Justice Starke that there seemed to be evidence of conspiracy, was unfortunate in that it has been misconstrued by the special pleaders of the Opposition. The learned judge did not say that there had been conspiracy.
– He did say that in the clearest possible language.
- His words were, “The whole case seems to be based on a conspiracy.”
– The honorable member for Yarra and I quoted other words from the lips of the learned judge.
– The action of the Attorney-. General in taking the case to the court should give us confidence in his desire to have the light of day thrown upon a difficult transaction which he wanted settled to the best advantage of the Commonwealth, and he should be praised for the moral courage he has shown in trying to suppress corrupt practices.
If honorable members opposite are really desirous of punishing these offenders against the laws of the country, they are not helping the Government by attempting to draw from the AttorneyGeneral evidence that would be valuable to the persons who are to be prosecuted.
– To be prosecuted?
– One does not know what may happen; these offenders may yet be prosecuted.
– The honorable member is an optimist.
– Because I am an optimist I expect that the honorable member may yet grow big enough to deal’ fairly with the Attorney-General. If the two missing Abrahams’ brothers return to Australia, and evidence is available which will justify a prosecution for conspiracy, they will be helped in their defence by the attempt of honorable members opposite to- extract from the Attorney-General the evidence that is now in the possession of the Crown. Not one honorable member has the temerity to say that the Attorney-General has been other than thoroughly honest in this matter. No one on either side of the House will accuse him of having acted improperly for the purpose of personal or indirect gain. That being so, the administration of justice is not in danger while under his control. So far as his exercise of discretion is concerned, I point out that he had no alternative, because the men escaped at a time when he had no evidence that would justify him in concluding that he could prosecute them successfully. Even to-day we are told there is no such evidence available. The only avenue open to him, therefore, was to get as much as possible back into the coffers of the Commonwealth. It is to his credit that he took the action he did in that direction. He did not hide the agreement; he did not put it away in a departmental office drawer. On the contrary, he allowed the full light of day to fall upon it by taking it before the court. In effect, he said to the court, “ I am going to expose these frauds which have been going on for years. Here is the agreement I have made, and I want the court to pass judgment on it.” That the court did not pass judgment on it was not the fault of the Attorney-General. I think I have clearly demonstrated that throughout this case the Attorney-General has shown his bona fides.
I should like now to offer a few comments regarding the motive behind this motion. It was a wise move on the part of the Opposition to select a skilled controversialist like the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) to present its case. Possibly no other member of the Opposition could have put it before the House more effectively. His object was to present it in such a manner as to suggest that he was acting with perfect impartiality; that he was out to protect the fount of justice which was in danger from some unknown source, and to make it appear that the motion had been moved in a non-party spirit. Unfortunately for the Opposition, even the honorable member’s undoubted ability was not sufficient to make the effort successful. . His colleagues did not loyally assist him to carry out his object, and at one stage one of them interjected, “ This is a nice weapon to use at the next election.”
– Will the honorable member name the interjector ?
– Realizing how nervous some politicians are - how their spine quivers when an election looms in view - the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), in inviting us to support the motion, reminded the House that there was a growing opinion in the press and on the part of the public in favour of the view which he was then expressing, and that we ought, therefore, to be very careful how we acted. The honorable member let the cat out of the bag. If public opinion is being promoted along wrong lines by means of untruths and the misrepresentation of facts, we must face the situation bravely, and correct the wrong impression. Honorable members on this side are not weak-kneed enough to endorse this attempt to besmirch for political purposes the character of a man whom we all honour. Those who ask us to agree to this motion to condemn the Attorney-General, knowing in their hearts that he has done the right thing, are not fit to be the representatives of the people.
.- However bad my opinion of the AttorneyGeneral’ may be, however poor my opinion of him and his administration,’ I never thought that it would become necessary for him to seek the assistance of such a miserable apologist as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley). That honorable member would have us believe that to impute motives is base: yet he concluded his speech by imputing motives to those on this side of the chamber. If I were a person who imputed motives - and you, Sir, know that I am not - I might say that there was a purpose in the honorable member’s worm-like apology for the AttorneyGeneral; I might say that his effort was a reward for favours received and anticipated. It might almost be suggested that bis effort was one of gratitude to the Government for his free trip to Geneva.
– Order! I ask the honorable member not to indulge in personalities.
– I should like to make it clear to the honorable member that I paid my own expenses to Geneva.
– Perhaps the speech of the honorable member for Barton was merely an attempt to compensate the House for his long absence and consequent silence.
If the purpose of this motion is not to question the conduct of the Attorney-General and the administration of the Government, it has no purpose at all. I take it that the motion is a direct charge against the Government’s administration - a charge based not on mere guesswork, but on actual happenings, which have been the subject of public criticism for some time. Nothing which honorable members on this side have said has not already been said by a justice of the High Court. The honorable member for Barton would have us believe that he is most anxious for the maintenance of the truth. I ask honorable members to say how many times he misinterpreted the truth in the short time that he occupied the attention’ of the House. What was practically his concluding remark was that Mr. Justice Starke had said that it “ seemed “ to him that there was evidence of a conspiracy. The honorable member emphasized the word “ seemed.” The statement of Mr. Justice Starke was perfectly clear and definite. Let me read what he said -
It is plain, on this material …. that the defendants operated together, and possibly with others, systematically to defraud the Common wealth.
The honorable member for Barton would have us believe that Mr. Justice Starke made no such definite statement.
The question involved is not merely one of individuals; but whether it is possible in this country, at this stage in our development, for certain favoured persons systematically, year after year, to act in defiance of the criminal code and to purchase immunity from punishment. By its action the Government has answered that question in the affirmative. Among its supporters are men who, by their interjections, have shown that they place the interests of the Treasury before the principles of equity and justice.. They have made it clear that, in their opinion, because the public treasury needscash, men with money who offend against, the law should be allowed to buy themselves out of the penitentiary. According to them, no man who has money enough to keep outside of prison need be detained behind prison walls.
Let us for a moment consider the individuals concerned in this case. The members of the Abrahams family are not. unknown to the public. On the contrary, they have had a long and notorious career in Victoria. Their record, not for ten, twenty or even 30 years, but for 40 years is known to the public. For 40 years the members of the Abrahams family have had widespread publicity; and that publicity has always been in connexion with something dirty, contemptible and fraudulent. They have been associated with fires, felony, fraud, fakery, the selling of adulterated goods and the misappropriation of funds. There is hardly a crime of which members of that family have not been suspected or accused, and in some cases, found guilty. I only mention these things to show that they were fit and proper subjects for suspicion by the authorities. Mr. James Boyd, who at one time represented the Henty electorate in this House, could have told us of his experiences of the Abrahams family 35 years ago. In those days Mr. Boyd did not stand wholly for constituted authority. He therefore, took the law into his own hands, and so remedied his grievance against the family. What the members of the Abrahams family did to Mr. Boyd . they did to thousands of other poor people in Melbourne and other parts of Victoria. By their frauds they laid the foundations of their fortunes.
This Government has been very considerate in its treatment of them. The law is to be suspended because they are “sick and suffering.” That condition is nothing new to the Abrahams family. Whenever they have been called before the courts of the country, they have fallen sick. They have suffered in mind and body - and in this way have sought sympathy. For a life-time they have been malingerers. At times some of them have been carried into court on stretchers - apparently deaf, dumb, blind and paralysed. Notwithstanding their seeming affliction on one occasion a cruel judge sent them to the penitentiary where the prison doctor, also unkind and unsympathetic, jerked them into speech and activity by the application of a galvanic battery.
Every Government official connected with the administration of the law in Victoria knew the character of the Abrahams family. The Federal Government imposed an income tax, and in 1915, 1916, and 1917 it applied to their operations in Western Australia. The family. appealed against their assessment. An officer who was sent to Western Australia to investigate their appeal reported that they were guilty of fraud and fakery; that they had defrauded not only the State but also the Commonwealth in matters other than the evasion of the payment of income tax. He reported also that they refused to give him any information, and that when asked for their books they said that they were in Melbourne. He added that they defied the law and refused to comply with sections 96 and. 97 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. One would have thought that on the receipt of that report the department would do something; it did nothing. Mr. Gabriel had nothing to do with.! this; but I should like to know who it was that caused the law to be a dead letter. Who was the person within the department or in the Government itself that could reach out and withhold the application of the law to these people ? Why was not action taken against them? Who was the individual who decided that there was no power to put the law into operation notwithstanding that the investigating officer reported that these people were acting in contravention of the law?
Did the department do anything on the receipt of this report? No. Years elapsed. The officer was sent from Western Australia to South Australia to investigate these affairs. From there he went to New South Wales and then back to Victoria. He reported that from 1915 to 1923, this family had defrauded the Commonwealth of income tax alone, to say nothing of land tax dues, to the extent of £140,000. The officer stated that from time to time he reported the result of his investigation to the Commissioner, but nothing was done. No action was taken to recover the £140,000, plus the penalties that the department could have imposed without resorting to the processes of the law, and the treble penalties that could have been inflicted with the aid of the court. Up to that year this family owed the people of this country half a million sterling; yet nothing was done. In 1924, they owed another £30,000, with all the accruing penalties, and still the law was not put into operation.
At last, in 1925, the officer walked into the office of this family in Elizabethstreet, Melbourne, and asked for the production of their books. They actually defied him. He reported that they had supplied falsified balance sheets; that they had falsified accounts, undervalued stocks, understated sales and tried in a dozen devious ways to defraud the public revenue. Still the unseen hand was capable of preventing the law from being put in motion No power moved. Then, at last, the department, the officer having again reported that sections 96 and 97 should be put into operation, asked to see the books. Having said in 191S, when the investigation was proceeding in Western Australia, that their books were in Melbourne, this family stated in 1925, “ We are sorry gentlemen. It took you seven years to travel from Western Australia to Melbourne. We now tell you that the books for which you are looking are not here, but over in Western Australia.”
Eventually the department said to these persons, “If you do not do something, we shall put the law into operation and compel you to comply with sections 96 and 97.” “Don’t do anything like that,” said Emanuel Abrahams, “ we will climb down and show you all you want to see.”
Proceedings were stopped, and then Emanuel said, “ Things are as they were. We will not show you anything.” Thus the year 1925 passed. In November of that year, Louis Abrahams thought that matters were becoming too warm for him, so he took a trip abroad. He became “sick and suffering”. This Government, when so informed, remarked, “Poor devil! Poor Louis is sick. Suspend the investigations if they inflict physical and mental suffering upon him. It does not matter if he has robbed the country of over £500,000.” Then Louis disappeared overseas.
In this case, I point out, there is no Gabriel. Probably you, Mr. Speaker, like myself, have travelled fairly extensively over Australia, and have been surprised at the effectiveness of the intelligence system of the Federal Taxation Department. It seems to have the all-seeing eye of God, so far as ordinary small taxpayers are concerned. It seems to have the very claws of the Devil with which to reach out for such men; and to have even the power to read their innermost thoughts. From day to day, one hears of somebody trying to escape from his obligations; but whether he goes to Cairns or Fremantle, in his attempt to elude the department by leaving the country, he finds an official at his heels. With untiring zeal, the department traces the offender, compels him to face his obligations, and incidentally causes him to lose his passage money. But, in the case of Louis Abrahams, or Kidman, or others of that ilk, a different method is adopted. As Mr. Justice Starke has said, for years the Abrahams have evaded the law. They should have been prosecuted; but they were not. What that learned judge remarked in connexion with this case, Judge Edwards said about Kidman, another of the clique of enormously wealthy persons who were able to stifle the department’s inquiries and make the law a dead letter. They could go abroad without paying their income tax, and they could remain out of the country if they wished to do so.
By and by Emanuel said “I, too, feel very sick. I am suffering in body and mind.” And so, again, the departments suspended its investigation. The next it learned, apparently, concerning Emanuel was that he also had gone overseas. Then Alfred refused to disclose the books, and again an officer recorded that by devious means this family was defeating the processes of the law. Gabriel, who was said to have been guilty of taking a gift of £650, was suspended! Why, I should like to ask, was not the evidence produced in connexion with that case, in which the officer appeared in his own defence? Gabriel was told off to watch these people, and was told to report from time- to time. He said that he did, but the department replied, in effect, “ The liar. He did not report.” A special watchman was appointed to do nothing more than report the movements of these persons ; but, apparently, when the Abrahams brothers disappeared, nobody asked where the sick men had gone. There was no inquiry concerning the state of their health. Nobody seemed curious to know when they could be expected to be convalescent, so that the investigations might be resumed. If a report was made, it waa suppressed.
This is one of the most scandalous affairs that has ever come under public attention in this country, not merely because of the doings of the individuals concerned in it, but also because, following upon what transpired in connexion with this and certain land tax disclosures, the Government has apparently laid down the dictum that men with enormous wealth can purchase immunity from the operation of the law.
The Government has said, through its Attorney-General, “We had no assurance that we could prove conspiracy.” It had ample proof. If there was any doubt about the matter, the Abrahams brothers, of course, were entitled to the benefit of the doubt. If there was any likelihood -of their escaping me operation of the law it was blackmail on the part of the Government to take any money from them at all. But the fact is that from 1915 up to the present time, the amount of taxes for which they have fleeced the country, together with the penalties that they have escaped, is not less than £1,000,000. The Government has compromised with them by accepting £500,000! Whether the compromise is £500,000 or 5s., the Government has compounded a felony. That view is confirmed not only by daily newspapers that have investigated the case, but also by men who have’ responsibilities connected with the High Court, and have no association with the Government. I do not know how the Government can escape blame in this matter. If they can gather any- ‘comfort from their attitude they are welcome to it. We are told that this motion “is put forward for purely party purposes. Whatever may be the motives attributed to us by honorable members opposite, I can only say that the party that supports the conduct we have exposed ought to be driven out of public life. The partiality shown in the Abrahams case, the fact that for long years the law was allowed to remain inoperative, so far as their offences were concerned, constitutes, in my opinion, one of the greatest crimes perpetrated in this country in connexion with the administration of justice.
– We are glad to hear the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) once more, and pleased to observe that he has not lost any of that gift of imagination for which he has always been distinguished. Some of his references to the officials who were suspended almost call for the production of evidence in substantiation of them; but nothing, so far, as I know, has yet been divulged to the House in regard to that. I shall follow the example of the honorable member in one respect, and that is by endeavouring to be as brief as possible in my remarks. The speech made by the AttorneyGeneral this afternoon, and, if Imay say so, the remarks by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) also, covered the whole field adequately, and anything that other honorable members could say would be largely recapitulation ; but I should like to refer to certain statements that have been made, and to note, some differences in the methods of attack from the other side of the House. For instance, the honorable member for Batman said that the Government had omitted to safeguard the revenue, and had taken too little from the Abrahams family. “ Have they,” he asked, “ got all the loot?” The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), on the other hand, said that the Government had insisted upon payment of the maximum penalty, and something over. Apparently, he followed the lead given him in the judgment of His Honour Mr. Justice Starke, of whose views I wish to speak with all deference.
– I am afraid that the honorable member has not followed the argument on that point.
– I took down the quotation from the honorable member’s speech as he made it. I was interested in his reference to the “loot,” because we have heard so often of that word, and I think that I have quoted the honorable member correctly. It is quite natural that there should be a variation of opinion on this matter, because of the different judgments given by Mr. Justice Starke in view of his different knowledge of the circumstances at different times. As I listened to the honorable member for Yarra, my mind went back four or five years to the long debates - while we were sitting in Melbourne - concerning alleged concessions to rich taxpayers. I remembered the appointment of a royal commission to consider that matter, and I recalled the decision arrived at on the charges then made by the honorable member. I recollected also the statements made concerning the sale of the Geelong Woollen Mills, which the Opposition thought would serve a useful purpose at the last election. I, personally, derived the greatest satisfaction from questions addressed to me on the hustings on that subject, because I found that I knew rather more about it than those who questioned me upon it.
Something has been said about one law for the rich and another for the poor. I am certain that those making that statement do not suggest that our judges are in any way open to criticism in that respect. If there is any truth in the assertion, then, so far as Australia is concerned, the law certainly has a leaning in favour of the poor. In a country in which only one taxpayer in 30 pays direct Commonwealth taxation, surely there cannot be any suggestion that the law runs against the poor. I have frequently seen poor persons who could not afford to put down the money which they were called upon to pay, exempted from payment by the court until such time as they should be able to do so. There is no truth in the assertion that in this country the law gives a greater advantage to the rich than to the poor; if it has any leaning to either side, it leans towards the poor.
I dp not approach the question under discussion to-night as a lawyer. I do not know that I could do so adequately, even were I to try. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has said, “ I have not the full facts, inasmuch as I have not seen all the papers.” That is the position of the people of Australia.Without the papers how can one consider the thousand and one things on which one’s decision must be based? It is for the Attorney-General to do this on behalf of the community. But in this case our Attorney-General did not act alone. He was advised by the Commissioner of Taxation, the Crown Law officers, and five counsel who are known throughout Australia as leading members of the Victorian bar. Sir Edward Mitchell’s name has been mentioned. Mr. Owen Dixon was also one of them. He is a man of such outstanding intellect and character that recently the Victorian Government asked him to accept a seat on the Supreme Court bench of the State, and he did so for a time. Are we likely to get advice that is lacking on the moral side from a man who stands in high repute wherever his name is known, and that is everywhere in Australia? Are we to imagine that such a man would be on the side of the Abrahams family?
– I agree with the honorable member. But what did Mr. Owen Dixon say on the subject?
– I am not in a position to tell the honorable member.
– Well that is the end of that matter.
– I cannot quote what Mr. Owen Dixon said, because I have not the opinion, nor has the honorable member for Batman. I make no complaint on that score. When the AttorneyGeneral says that he took this action on the advice of five leading counsel, I accept his word, and I do not need the production of the papers to be better assured onthe point. In any case, in the last resort the matter went to Cabinet, and I shall say a word on that point before I conclude. The advice of all these persons was that a certain course of action should be taken, and it was taken. What other attitude could the AttorneyGeneral have taken up? If a criminal prosecution had been instituted and failed, does any one suggest that the delay which would have been occasioned would have been of any benefit to Australia? I think that I am right in saying that no property could have been seized while that prosecution was in progress. It has already been emphasized that it would probably have taken a very long time to bring proceedings of that sort to an end. Of course, in a matter like this the Attorney-General must take the responsibility, and on this occasion he is not shirking it; but he would have put himself in aposition which required considerable justification, if he had taken a course of action which was directly opposed to that which he was advised by counsel to take. In Australia we are far too prone to criticize the man at the helm. Every one professes to know much about these matters. I confess that I am not in possession of all the facts in the Abrahams case - no one is - but a perusal of the newspapers shows that some of thern have reached definite conclusions in some cases, I think, upon insufficient information. If the Attorney-General had done other than what he did there would have been just as much outcry from the other side as there has been because of the action he has taken. It would have been said that he was foolish: that he had a very vague chance of succeeding in a prosecution, and yet had gone on with it and lost everything. That point would have been particularly emphasized, because we know that the bulk of the money which appears to be due was recoverable through the course of action taken. A great many speakers appear to have overlooked the fact that it is due to the vigilance and skill of the Taxation Department, and also of the Crown Law Officers, that the matter has gone as far as it has. With considerable difficulty, I suppose, and at any rate, after the most careful thought, they embarked on what have been described as kid-glove methods, though methods embracing the blowing-in of safes appear to me to be fairly drastic. I need hardly repeat what has already been emphasized - that the Attorney-Generalneed not have brought this action against the Abrahams brothers because a penalty could have been applied by the Commissioner of Taxation without any hearing. I have rarely had brought under my notice a case in which I have been more certain that the action taken in view of all thecircumstances was the right one to take. There was the fullest consideration of the whole of the details available by men of outstanding ability, and no favoritism, could have been shown in the decision reached. Without flattering the AttorneyGeneral any one who knows him knows well that he would be one of the last to overlook the moral or the legal side of any course of action. He was in the best position to know what to do, and, in my opinion, he took the proper and the only sound course to take. But he cannot, nor can the Ministry, shelve responsibility in the matter. I do not always agree with what the Government does, but I have not the slightest doubt that the members of it are honorable men and indeed no one has doubted it. The whole crux of the position is that in a case of this kind, where so many intricate and involved details are concerned, the final decision must be left to the man at the helm, who in this case is a good man and he should be trusted.
.- The Government has not adequately answered the case stated by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and supported by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley) has misunderstood the motion if he thinks that it is directed against the AttorneyGeneral personally. Its language is plain. It certainly impugns the Government, not on the ground that Ministers individually have been dishonest in the Abrahams case, but because, in their capacity as administrators, they have noi acted properly. The motion challenges the action of the Government in regard to certain notorious income tax evasions, known as the Abrahams case, the history of which discloses improper and unpredecented bargaining on the part of the Government with self-confessed malefactors. That is the gravamen of the charge made by the honorable member for Batman, whose charge has not been answered. The Attorney-General went to some pains to traverse the history of the case. He endeavoured to give the impression that there was not sufficient ground to sustain a charge of conspiracy. But the honorable member for Barton went further. He said that there was no possible hope of securing a conviction for conspiracy. The honorable member’s opinion is at complete variance with that of Mr. Justice Starke, who said that these persons had conspired together systematically to defraud the Commonwealth. He further made the remark that there had been a widespread conspiracy. A justice of the High Court does not lightly make a comment of that sort. There must have been in his mind the strongest possible justification for the statement he made. Yet honorable members on the Government side have endeavoured to make light of the offence of these men, whose sinister history has just been related by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey). I have not heard the honorable member’s story of their career challenged from the opposite side of the chamber. Apparently, for a long period the Abrahams have been engaged in nefarious practices, and especially in offences against the Commonwealth law. Their history must have been known to the Commonwealth authorities. Of course, it was known to the income tax officers. They had been engaged in investigating the malpractices of the Abrahams family. It must also have been known to the Attorney-General, and, no doubt, to the whole Cabinet. Yet, knowing the real character of these delinquents, the Government entered into a gentleman’s agreement with them.
The Attorney-General did not answer the charges made by the honorable member for Batman in regard to that agreement; he carefully avoided them. The honorable member for Batman pointed to one or two significant features of this agreement. He showed that provision was made in it that persons, who were not parties to the agreement should plead guilty to certain grave offences with which they would subsequently be charged. He showed also that the agreement was made with other parties who themselves were self-confessed criminals. The AttorneyGeneral avoided the principal charges and contented himself with quibbling upon other less significant points. The High Court justice who reviewed this document made some very caustic comments on it, and the Attorney-General was not able to explain them away. The judge said that the agreement trespassed on the province of the judiciary. That was a very severe censure. The judge continued - “ And the arrangement is contrary to the policy and plain intention of the Act.” I suppose there is no one more competent to express an opinion on Commonwealth law than a justice of the High Court, and one of them makes that severe commentary on the action of the AttorneyGeneral.
– Has that judge never had a decision reversed?
– This decision has not been reversed. The fact that a High Court judge may have had a decision reversed, is no ground for refusing to accept a decision or a comment he may subsequently make. If we adopted the doctrine that a judge’s opinion in such circumstances is no longer of any value, we should have to amend the whole system of our judiciary, and provide for the removal of judges whenever their decisions were reversed. Can the honorable member inform me whether this judge has had a ruling reversed by the Full Court? The honorable gentleman remains silent.
I do not pretend to have any special knowledge of the legal complexities of the present case, but this is the position as it appears to me, after having listened to the Attorney-General last week and again this afternoon :. This is not by any means an ordinary case of evasion of income tax law. It is not a case in which there have been evasions arising from bona fide mistakes; nor is it a case in which there has been anything in the nature of an ordinary attempt at avoidance of income tax liabilities. As- a matter of fact, what is involved is a widespread conspiracy to defraud, and indulgence in corrupt practices, and the persons who have been guilty of these heinous offences, not once but upon many occasions over a period of years, are the parties with whom the Attorney-General has entered into an agreement to let them off with a fine when they might have been liable to fine and imprisonment. The Attorney-General recognizes the weakness of that part of his .case, because he says in effect, “ We had an opportunity of getting this fine, but we have given no assurance to the culprits of immunity from prosecution.” The Attorney-Gen eral would have answered the case of the Opposition if he had been able to give an assurance that his department would zealously apply the law to these culprits as soon as they could be arrested, and action taken. But he has avoided- giving any such assurance. He could clear the matter up now. Let him answer by way of interjection whether he intends to launch a criminal prosecution against the Abrahams brothers or any one of them, when it shall be practicable to do so. They should be prosecuted, because there- is a strong case for a charge of conspiracy. They have escaped entirely their responsibility for the crime of conspiracy, which the High Court judge alleges against them, and which no one has seriously denied.
Let us take the charge of conspiracy first. It is admitted from both sides of the House, that these men are probably guilty. Does the Attorney-General desire to sheet that charge home to them, -or are they to be exonerated from it, and their offences condoned because they have made a large money payment? The AttorneyGeneral is discreetly and eloquently silent.
– You have first to catch your man.
– There is one for ‘ whom it is not necessary to look very far ; that is Alfred Abrahams.-
– Did the honorable member not hear the Attorney-General say that there was not sufficient evidence against him ?
– I did not hear him say it. Let him say it now.
– I said that the evidence was weak, and that there was no chance of a successful prosecution.
– Then Judge Starke was entirely wrong in saying that there had been conspiracy.
– His Honour waa not in possession of the facts. The evidence discloses fraud, but not conspiracy.
– Many allusions have been made to the opinions of counsel upon whose advice the AttorneyGeneral says he has acted; but the documents themselves have been withheld. Why has this been done? The Attorney-General says that it is not usual to disclose legal opinions in such circumstances, and gives as his reason the fact that the case is sub judice, and might be prejudiced. I agree that it might be prejudiced if the Commonwealth Government intends to go on with the criminal prosecution, but is there any likelihood of that?
– There are still outstanding further amounts of taxation, for recent years, and I am not going to give any opinion in regard to that.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that there are still sums outstanding?
– Yes, sums which have not yet been assessed. But, apart from that, there is still the general objection to disclosing such documents.
-Is the general reason sufficient for withholding documents upon which the Attorney-General relies for his own defence in this matter?
– I merely said that I had taken legal advice, and that I was not quoting my own opinion.
– It is not a question of having faith in the AttorneyGeneral, nor is it a matter, as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley) alleged against us, that we cannot take the word of the Attorney-General. The question is, would a court of law accept the word of the Attorney-General, or any one else, who was depending for hia defence on documents which he would not produce ? It is a matter of producing in full the evidence to those who are charged with the task of examining the case.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral say that the Abrahams paid £500,000 to have a charge withdrawn when there was no case against them?
– It appears to be a fact that in cases of crimes against the Commonwealth, persons are able to evade imprisonment by a money payment. If they have sufficient funds behind them they are able to escape the full punishment to which they are liable. I believe that is the explanation of the present case. If it had been an ordinary taxpayer who had faked his accounts and falsified his balance-sheet, he would now be behind prison bars. But because these persons lave millions of pounds behind them, and are able to buy themselves out of the responsibility of their crime, they can go scot-free, and are able freely to carry on negotiations with the Attorney-General and enter into a gentleman’s agreement with them.
The honorable member for Barton justifies the action of the AttorneyGeneral in a manner different from that adopted by any one else who has spoken from that side of the House. He applauds .the Attorney-General, not because of the justice he has shown, or because of his strict administration of the laws of the Commonwealth, but because of his business acumen. This is a new principle to be considered, a new qualification for the Minister who presides over the justice department of the Commonwealth. He is to be a man of business acumen, and he is to come to the aid. of the Treasurer “ in a year like this.” Apparently in a year like this the Commonwealth Government is having a bad time financially. It might even be faced with a deficit, and, therefore, the Attorney-General is to be accounted very successful if he shows business acumen in the administration of justice, and comes to the aid of a necessitous Treasurer !
– He would have been a useful man in Queensland a few years ago.
– Yes, he would have been very welcome there. I ask the Attorney-General whether he has considered the effect upon State revenue of his action in entering into this strange, inexplicable and mysterious agreement with the Abrahams brothers ? If these culprits have been defrauding the Commonwealth revenues, there is a strong presumption that they have also been defrauding the State revenues in those States in which their income are derived. We know that there exists an arrangement between the Commonwealth and States Commissioners of Taxation, whereby the departments’ may exchange information to prevent conspiracy to defraud, and to detect evasions of the income tax law. In this case the evidence collected by the Commonwealth Government would, no doubt, be very material to the .State Income Tax Commissioner. I understand from this agreement that much, if hot all, of this evidence has been returned to the culprits.
– I do not think that it has been returned yet.
– At all event* an agreement has been entered into to return the documents. Has the Attorney-General considered that aspect of the matter ?
– That is a matter tor the Commissioner of Taxation. I can say that every facility will be given to the States.
– If the documents have been returned any facilities which <san be given to the State authorities will not be worth much.
– Any application from the States will be carefully considered.
– The honorable member surely does not want us to give away the whole of the case.
– I am afraid that the Attorney-General has already given it away. If the documents have been returned, much of the evidence which would be vital to the States in establishing their claim will not be available. These tax-evaders are not so discriminating that they will defraud only the Commonwealth, and not the State. Yet this agreement has been entered into without consultation with the State crown law authorities or the State Income Tax Commissioner. I maintain that the charge of making an improper and unprecedented agreement with culprits who have acted fraudulently has been proved against the Government. There is convincing evidence that these persons conspired to defeat the laws of the Commonwealth, and that Ministers acted very improperly in entering into an agreement such as that which has been laid upon the table of the library.
.- The motion reads -
That, in the opinion of this House, the action of the Government in regard to certain notorious income tax evasions known as “ the Abrahams cases,” the history of which discloses improper and unprecedented bargaining on the part of the. Government with self-confessed malefactors, and grave failure to safeguard the revenues of the Commonwealth, is repugnant to right practice and out of harmony with correct and settled principles governing the administration of the criminal Jaw.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has practically challenged members of the legal fraternity on this side of the House to disagree with his statement of the case. The agreement, in connexion with the case under which these proceedings were taken, is dated the 26th September, 1927, and was entered into between the Abrahams brothers and the Commissioner of Taxation of the Commonwealth of Australia, under the powers conferred upon, him by the Income Tax Assessment Act. The punitive provisions of that act differ somewhat from those of the criminal law; but it is not my intention to take up the time of the House in discussing certain phases of this matter which have been very fully debated by the honorable member for Batman, who was answered by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham). In my opinion this agreement differs from others of a similar nature made by the Commissioner of Taxation under this section in three respects only: First, because of the magnitude of the sum involved; secondly, because of the complexity of the circumstances associated with the proceedings; and, thirdly, because the agreement was referred to the court. The magnitude of the case must be apparent to every honorable member, as no less than £750,000 is said by members opposite to be involved, and the amount which the Abrahams brothers have covenanted to pay approximates £500,000. We need refer only to some of the points which other speakers have mentioned to realize the complex nature of the circumstances. No fewer than 2S persons are implicated and six or seven companies are involved, the partners in which total twelve. We can readily see that a case involving seven companies, in which there are twelve partners, and in which 28 persons are implicated, made an investigation exceedingly difficult.
– That may not be all.
– There may be others.
– There are more.
– There may be; but at any rate the number I have mentioned shows the complexity of the transactions which had to be inquired into before the taxation officials could really obtain the evidence they desired. The AttorneyGeneral said that he was quite satisfied that a fraud had been committed in 1924 ; but that does not mean that the fraud could be proved. It is difficult to obtain evidence of fraud of this nature, especially in cases where so many persons are involved. It has been said that, when the safes and strongrooms in the premises occupied by the Abrahams brothers were forced open, a room full of documents was confiscated, and that it would take eighteen months to unravel the transactions which those documents recorded. That is sufficient to show the complexity of the transactions. . The third point I mentioned was that this agreement differs from others, inasmuch as it was referred to the court for a judgment. The Income Tax Assessment Act provides that the Commissioner of Taxation may enter into such agreements. That act was passed by this Parliament.
– But this Parliament also passed a Crimes Act.
– Yes, but the Commissioner of Taxation took action under the act which I have mentioned. This agreement contains a recital which is as follows : -
And whereas the Commissioner has upon the recommendation of the counsel employed by him and the law officers of the Commonwealth decided to accept the hereinbefore recited offers of the taxpayers and to enter into and execute this indenture.
That was done on the advice of probably the most eminent counsel obtainable in Australia. I think every one will admit that the bar which gave that advice could hardly have been strengthened. It consisted of Sir Edward Mitchell, K.C., Mr. Owen Dixon, K.C., Mr. Dixon Hearder, Mr. Gorman, and Mr. Robertson.
– Does the honorable member know what advice they gave?
– No ; but the agreement was entered into in accordance with their advice. A good deal has been said concerning Mr. Justice Starke’s remarks at the hearing. In a transcript of the proceedings on the resumption of the court after lunch, when His Honour was referring to the various considerations which these barristers had in mind when they gave their advice to the AttorneyGeneral or the Commissioner of Taxation, Sir Edward Mitchell is made to say -
Might I respectfully submit this view, that these matters which your Honour referred to must have been present to the minds of counsel advising the AttorneyGeneral, and must have been present to the mind of the Attorney-General before he determined on certain action. Counsel here are perfectly willing that Your Honour should see the opinion in writing which counsel for the Commissioner and the Attorney-General unanimously gave.
These five eminent lawyers, supported by the Crown Law officers, considered all the facts before they came to a decision. Sir Edward Mitchell further said -
It was signed by all of them. I am quite willing that my learned friend should have a copy also and use it. so that Your Honour can see that nothing was overlooked and everything was done in strict propriety. We do not desire that it should be published or that any one should see it except my learned friend, Mr. Ham, and Your Honour.
What could the Attorney-General do in such circumstances? He could not sift all the evidence, but had to arrange for that to be done by others before he made up his mind. The Attorney-General read the opinions which they expressed, and upon these he relied in arriving at his decision. What could the Government do but enter into this agreement? It is strictly within the law which Parliament passed giving the Commissioner of Taxation power to enter into such an arrangement. There must be dozens of cases in which the Commissioner of Taxation has exercised these powers.
– Not cases like this.
– Not cases of the same magnitude. It is the amount involved, the complex nature of the proceedings, and the fact that the agreement was referred to the court, that makes this agreement different from others.
– Does the honorable member say that many cases have been treated in this way?
– I could not give the number ; but I know that there have been some in which the Commissioner of Taxation has entered into agreements under an act passed by this Parliament. Such action is, of course, strictly within the law. We are indebted to the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) for his history of the case; but I think he was” drawing upon his imagination a good deal. The Crown Law authorities cannot prosecute all the defendants, because they are not here to prosecute. As every practising lawyer knows, it is very difficult to prove conspiracy in some circumstances. When two of the accused are out of the country it is harder to prove a charge against the one who may be left. Generally speaking, I think that the action taken by the Commissioner of Taxation in this case is well within the powers conferred upon him under the Income Tax Assessment Act. Every precaution was taken by the AtorneyGeneral and the Crown Law authorities to protect the public interest, and I think it will be admitted that a good financial bargain has been made by the Commonwealth. Itwould not have been of any benefit if the Government had allowed this opportunity to pass. The Government has already received a certain sum, and has security for the balance. If this is a case of compounding a felony, as we have been told by some honorable members opposite, it has been done under the powers conferred by Parliament upon the Commissioner of Taxation. The Attorney-General has done right, and I do not see how he could have acted differently. Take the converse of this case. Supposing the Attorney- General had insisted upon going on with a prosecution. In all probability the three Abrahams would have got away. Already two have gone.
– “Why did the Government not ask their solicitor where they were. He was not asked to disclose their whereabouts.
– Possibly he did not know where they were; if he did, he would not disclose the information. Had the Attorney-General insisted upon a prosecution it would probably have meant that no reparation whatever would have been made; as it is, the revenue has profited by about £500,000, which is no small sum. It has been suggested that it would have taken about eighteen months to makea proper examination , of the room full of documents which have been collected in connexion with this case, and I am quite prepared to believe that that is a fair estimate. In all the circumstances I am convinced that the Government has done the right thing, and does not deserve censure.
.- Most honorable members who have participated in this debate have been lawyers, but seeing that the overwhelming majority of electors who will finally determine the issue will be laymen, I, as a layman, make no apology for discussing it. I, like the members of the Opposi tion, am keenly disappointed that the Government has not been able to prosecute the Abrahams brothers. There appears to be little doubt that these master criminals have been guilty of conspiracy upon a gigantic scale, and that they deserve imprisonment. But I am sure that the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) is more disappointed than any other honorable member of the House that he has not been able to carry through a successfulprosecution of them. Had it been possible to do so he would undoubtedly have done it. I commend the honorable gentleman for his courage in standing by not only his own legal opinion of the case. That would be quite sufficient for me to follow; hut we have also the opinion of the other distinguished legal gentlemen who have advised the Government upon it. The matter has been dealt with in a commonsense and businesslike fashion. I congratulate the Attorney-General upon resisting the temptation to deal with it on party political lines such as the mover of the motion adopted.
Question - That the motion be agreed to -put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill returned from the Senate with re quests.
Jewish Race - Treatment of IncapacitatedsoldiersDerbyto Wyndham Aerial Mail Service.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I regret that, owing to an arrangement made by the Prime Minister and my leader to limit speeches, I was unable to take part in the debate on the motion submitted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), concerning the Abrahams income taxation frauds. I wish now to say a few words on behalf of the Jewish race to which the Abrahams family belong. I feel certain that no decent Jewish man or woman in Australia has any sympathy with the Abrahams brothers. I believe that, on the contrary, they take the view that justice would have been done if the Abrahams had been more severely punished than they have been. No race has suffered so much as the Jews. It may he that the criminal tendencies of the Abrahams family are the result of generations of persecution of the Jewish people throughout the world, and their greed has been developed to such an extent that they have become the most detested conspirators in Australia. I believe that if the diadem of glory which history has placed upon the memory of the sacred martyrs of old could be bestowed on a nation or a race, it might fittingly be bestowed on the Jewish people, for their demeanour in the face of bitter persecution. I have it on the most reliable authority that even since the signing of the Armistice, over 200,000 Jewish men, women and children have been massacred in the various countries of Europe, principally in the Ukraine. I feel it incumbent on me to say a word for the
Jewish people because, during the last few months I have heard repeatedly the statement, “ Ob, they are Jews, so what can you expect?” I believe that if the Crown had demanded £1,000,000 from the Abrahams brothers for immunity from prosecution, the money would have been forthcoming, because it is understood that they are worth anything from £4,000,000 to £8,000,000.
– Order ! The honorable member must not discuss the motion that has just been disposed of.
– I know that the son of a Jewish rabbi has suffered very much at the hands of these people, and that Mr. Rintel nearly lost his life owing to an explosion of a gun which had been sold to him by the Abrahams brothers. I am sure, therefore, that there would have been no regret amongst the Jewish people in Australia if the Abrahams had been punished much more severely. I understand, also, that it was competent for the Government to seize the whole of their property and hold it till they returned.
Mr.R. GREEN (Richmond) [10.17].- I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation an important matter affecting totally disabled exsoldiers. Recently the Government undertook to make provision for the transport of all seriously disabled soldiers, and the sum of £10 per month per man was set aside for that purpose. At that time I pointed out that owing to the manner in which the instruction had been drafted, certain seriously incapacitated exsoldiers would be debarred from participation in these benefits, which were intended to apply only to soldiers, who were confined to a wheeled chair or cot. Though I am a disabled exsoldier myself my lot is not to be compared with ex-soldiers with double amputations, and I can assure honorable members generally that it is impossible for them to appreciate fully how soldiers in that plight feel their disability. The other day I accompanied an ex-soldier with a double amputation above the kneeto the Repatriation Department in Sydney in order to put his case before the authorities. That man was able to get out of the car and move about on two little stumps 3 or 4 inches in length. When in the prime of life he was a man 6 feet in height, but now he hardly comes up to my waist. The Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation in Sydney (Mr. Barrett) informed me that the regulations which, I presume, had the approval of the Minister, precluded that man from participating in the benefits recently granted to totally incapacitated ex-soldiers. He was able to cross the pavement and reach his office without assistance. In other words, he could not receive the grant because he was not confined to a wheeled chair or a cot. I ask honorable members to try to visualize that man, now only as high as my waist, whereas prior to his disability he was over 6 feet in height. He is refused the allowance merely because, by his determination, he has adapted himself to these pegs, and is able to cross a pavement instead of being carried. There are three such disabled men in Sydney, two of whom have persevered with these stumps, and are able to move about a little. The third has made no attempt to wear the stumps, and he is the only one of the three receiving the allowance. I ask the Minister to give instructions to the Repatriation Commission that such men, with double amputations, shall receive the allowance irrespective of their endeavours to assist their locomotion. I give the Government credit for granting the allowance ; but I urge those in authority to insist that deserving cases shall receive it.
– I have received the following telegram from Wyndham, Western Australia: -
Have been asked telegraph you resolution meeting at Wyndham. Practically every resident Wyndham surroundings present. Held tenth instant as follows : “ Proposed by Doctor Fenton seconded by Mr. James Maloney, firstly to respectfully remind Federal Government of its promise made last year to extend existing aerial mail service from Derby to Wyndham, secondly to urge that in view approaching end wet season this promise be redeemed at earliest possible moment, and, thirdly, to emphasize strongly fact that proposed extension is vital to interests of Wyndham and of the Kimberlies in general.” Carried unanimously. And it was hoped that the chairman will receive a prompt reply.
My excuse for bringing this matter forward is that I have urged it previously in this chamber, on several occasions. I know that the Ministry is interested in extending civil aviation in Australia ; but I regret that there has been little activity in that direction for some time. Last year a large amount of money was available for the purpose, and I hoped that this service would be instituted then. Wyndham is probably the most isolated post in Australia. At this time of the year it has a mail service only once every two months. Its residents feel that it would be helpful to them if their area were affiliated with Commonwealth territory. The Government would display a sympathetic spirit if it inaugurated this air service before the next wet season began. Once that commences there will be no chance to make the necessary landing grounds. Such a service would, primarily, carry the mails, and it would also make available medical service to the hinterland of Western Australia. The well-known incident of the lady who died at child-birth because of the lack of medical attention must still be fresh in the memory of honorable members. I trust that I may receive from the Minister a definite intimation that the Government intends to proceed immediately with the inauguration of the air service that I have referred to.
.- If the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) will make available to me the names of the three men mentioned by him, I shall have an inquiry made into the history of their cases.
– I gave those cases merely by way of illustration, and I should like an assurance that they “will receive attention.
– I assure the honorable member that the matter will be investigated, and, if the cases come within the category of the allowance, it will be made to the men.
I admire the assiduity with which the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) brings up the question of an air service between Derby and Wyndham, and I agree entirely with him.From a conversation which I recently had with the Minister for Defence, I believe that the service will be instituted. I am unable to give a definite assurance, but tomorrow I shall make further representations to the Minister to see whether the matter cannot be pushed on.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 March 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1928/19280322_reps_10_118/>.