Earlier this year La Trobe Law School, together with the support of the University, established the Centre for Legislation, Its Interpretation and Drafting. The purpose of the Centre is to foster excellence in legislation, its interpretation and drafting. The Patron is the Hon Kenneth Hayne AC, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. Its director is Dr Jeffrey Barnes. A former legislative drafter, Dr Barnes is an author of a number of publications on statutory interpretation and an experienced lecturer and professional trainer in the area of interpretation.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) approached the Centre about furthering professional development in the area of statutory interpretation. The ATO administers many pieces of federal legislation, including the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999, and aspects of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
Interesting interpretative questions arise with such legislation, such as: is Mini Ciabatte ‘crackers’ for the purposes of goods and services tax? Is Melrose Carpark (within Melbourne Airport) ‘in the vicinity of’ Terminal 3 and accordingly subject to fringe benefits tax? If a provision in tax legislation refers to sending a notice to a company director does that mean the notice is ‘given’ when it is sent or when it is delivered? Is a refund notice to a taxpayer, stating that tax payable is ‘$0.00’, an assessment which cannot be amended after a specified period? Does the Commissioner of Taxation have an implied power to investigate a suspected fraudulent claim for a refund of GST? And can a person seeking documents under freedom of information require the ATO to prepare software so that documents on a computer possessed by the Office can be accessed?
These questions were addressed in two ‘webinar’ sessions run by Dr Barnes in November for the ATO. A webinar is a seminar conducted over the internet. The lectures covered Key Concepts and Key Skills in Statutory Interpretation with reference to Taxation Legislation. Over 380 officers registered for the sessions, with further interest in receiving a recording. The sessions were run interactively, with many of the registrants listening live and sending in questions and answers to the presenter.
The feedback from the webinars is very encouraging. It demonstrates that the Centre is fulfilling a need for professional development in the area of statutory interpretation.