Thursday, December 03, 2020

An important public purpose?

It seems that Labour can't even pass a tax bill without intruding on human rights. The Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Bill - currently going through the House under all-stages urgency - has attracted a negative report from the Attorney-General warning that it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. The problem? Section 33, which inserts a provision allowing IRD to demand "any information that the Commissioner considers relevant for a purpose relating to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system".

The Attorney-General notes that this is apparently inconsistent with both the right to freedom of speech and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Their solution is to add a clause, similar to those in the Statistics Act, stating that no information gained using this power may be used as evidence in a prosecution (it is unclear whether it would prohibit it from being the subject of a second demand under the IRDs existing power to demand evidence for enforcement purposes). That might fix the narrow legal problem the Attorney-General has highlighted, but I think there's a bigger underlying one - namely, is it really reasonable that IRD be able to seize documents on pain of prosecution simply to do its policy homework? Is allowing government agencies to forcibly outsource their policy development in this way really "an important public purpose"?

I don't think it is, sorry. Which means that the proposed fix doesn't address the underlying issue. Instead, the only way of doing that is to remove the clause from the Bill entirely.