Editorial: the Tax Working Group’s proposed changes are unworkable, by the Chief Parliamentary Counsel

danger

It’s the day we all feared.  The Tax Working Group has released its proposed changes.  Well good for them.  None of it’s going to happen.

The Income Tax Act 2007 is virtually unreadable as it is.  We’re talking sub-sub paragraphs, and capital-lettered amendment sections.  And they want to what?  Add more?  Do you know how long the Income Tax Act 2007 currently is?  It’s over 3500 pages!  That’s just the Act!  That’s not any of the accompanying regulations or associated Acts.  It’s got a section number in it called “CW55BB” – that’s just the section number, without any subsections!

Right now the Income Tax Act 2007 is like a Jenga Tower where there aren’t any safe moves left.  There are entire Parts of that Act that we haven’t touched in years.  It’s too unsafe to send Parliamentary Counsel into them.  Tinkering with the wrong section risks collapsing the full weight of some Parts down onto those poor souls.  For the last five years we’ve just been banging a whole lot of new operative provisions into a schedule.  We’ve been hoping no one noticed and, frankly, it seemed like we were getting away with it.  Denzil Ward would be rolling in his grave.

Well, that won’t work any more; the Tax Working Group wants significant changes.  It’s not just extending the bright line test.  Given enough time and sufficient safety equipment we might – might – be able to manage changing references to a time period.  But expanding subject matter coverage when who knows where that subject matter features elsewhere in an Act that takes seven reams of paper to print?  You’re dreaming, mate.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not afraid of doing our job.  And we’re good at it.  Being a Parliamentary Counsel isn’t all just doing a quick find-and-replace when a new government decides they don’t like the name “Vulnerable Children Act”.  I mean, you should see some of the 19th century legislation we have to keep on life support.  But the prospect of implementing any of these changes is worse than that time we had to write an Act declaring a living person was dead.

Right, time to see how I can make this the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee’s problem.

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