October 7

A Minister of the Crown?


“There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful." [President Theodore Roosevelt, who coined the term 'muckraker' in 1906.]

On 13 February 13, 2006, Lindsay Tanner MP, the shadow minister for finance, launched what Piers Akerman described in his syndicated newspaper column as a “spectacular attack under parliamentary privilege on a body named the Constitution Education Fund Australia which had gained deductible gift recipient status in June, 2003, the year it was set up as a bipartisan organisation to educate the public on the role of the Australian Constitution.”

The report, in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on 4 October, 2007, said that in a lengthy speech the MP made “bold claims” of a “conspiratorial link” between CEFA and Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, which then shared the same Sydney address.

“He referred darkly to CEFA and the ACM's accounts, and tried valiantly to paint a picture of collusion and worse before making the claim: ‘Only one conclusion can be drawn from these facts: The ACM is engaged in a brazen tax scam with the direct connivance of the Howard Government. CEFA is simply a front organisation which exists solely as a filter through which donations to the ACM can become tax deductible . . . it is little more than a shell. This is nothing less than a fraud on Australian taxpayers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax which would otherwise be payable by ACM donors has been evaded by the use of this elaborate sham.’

Acknowledging it was ‘theoretically possible that there is some innocent explanation", the MP  said, ‘I find it very hard to conceive of one,’ he demanded the immediate cancellation of CEFA's tax deductibility and an explanation for ‘this outrageous scam.’"

 Piers Akerman says that when the Australian Tax Office obliged with a confidential tax audit of CEFA, the story was leaked to Jason  Koutsoukis of The Sunday Age. This is in breach of the taxation law.

He continued:”Before revealing the outcome of that audit, it must be remembered that Tanner is held up as one of the most experienced and more responsible members of the Rudd team, a man of integrity, a man to be trusted.

"When he accused CEFA of being a "shell", and being a front for "a brazen tax scam", he was attacking a number of highly respected and honourable Australians including the wounded war hero and RSL chief Major General W.B. "Digger" James, the noted historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, the arts benefactor Kim Bonython, Justice Lloyd Waddy, a former chief justice of NSW, Sir Laurence Street, the highly successful mining executive Hugh Morgan, Sir David Smith, the widely-respected historian associate professor Greg Melleuish, and the matriarch of Australian philanthropy Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

"He was also attacking fellow republicans Professor Greg Craven (vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University), the widely-published historian Dr John Hirst, and the frequently-quoted professor of constitutional law Professor George Williams, who also sat on the CEFA Foundation council at the time, and such distinguished trustees as Sydney constitutional law professor George Winterton, the former Sydney University Chancellor Dame Leonie Kramer, the former Tasmanian governor Sir Guy Greene, and the Honourable Justice Barry O'Keefe.

"Oh, and his blanket claims would also have covered CEFA's patron-in-chief Governor-General Michael Jeffery and the former Australian Test captain Steve Waugh, who was the public face of civics promotion body.”

 Observing that “ Tanner certainly knew how to hit the biggest possible target when he launched his serious spray” Piers Akerman makes the important point that  had any of his claims been accurate criminal prosecutions would have followed. “Unfortunately, and I bet you guessed the sad end to this saga, when the ATO completed its comprehensive secret audit in June it found absolutely nothing awry.

"Not a single breach of the Tax Act. Not that it wasn't a thorough investigation, a number of tax officers were involved and CEFA had to divert its resources from providing charitable educational activities to assist them in their fruitless task.

"Tanner's witch hunt cost the Australian taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It sullied the reputations of people of principle who have earned nationwide admiration for their contributions to public life.”

 “But,” Piers Akerman asks,“  Has Tanner paid them the courtesy of an apology? Has he submitted a small mea culpa to Hansard? Has he expressed any shame for his disgraceful conduct? No. He has not even replied to letter from the national convenor of the ACM, Professor David Flint, sent in June, in which Flint said:

" ‘(The) inescapable conclusion is that you made your allegations of criminal conspiracy without any evidence whatsoever, and without any inquiry. It seems these allegations were made with reckless indifference as to whether they were true or false. An apology would be gracious, your minimum obligation is to retract.’"

Mr Tanner aspires to be a Minister of the Crown. It was hoped that he would have accepted that what he did was wrong and that he would have at least retracted his statement in the House. This would have brought the matter to an end. But Mr. Tanner did not reply.  Accordingly, a letter has been sent to the Speaker, the Hon. David Hawker, asking that an appropriate statement by way of reply to the attack be incorporated in Hansard. Under Standing Orders this may be referred to the Privileges Committee for consideration.  This procedure was introduced as some sort of balance to the fact that great damage can be inflicted through the abuse of this privilege.  

"In the meantime, a visit to the website of the Constitutional Education Fund-Australia will demonstrate that the Fund  is undertaking marvellous work in constitutional education. A glance at the membership of the board of trustees and the foundation council should assure anyone that it could not be anything but non-partisan, and completely unaligned politically."


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