Australia's Fraser faces party split over tax-evasion bill

The Australian government is suffering a damaging split among its ranks in Parliament as a result of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's decision to campaign against tax evaders.

About a dozen members of the Liberal Party in the House of Representatives have indicated they intend to vote against legislation designed to recoup more than $300 million in unpaid taxes over the last 10 years. They say the legislation is ''retrospective'' and therefore contrary to Liberal Party principles.

It is rare for even one member of the government to vote against its proposed laws. The government seems certain to have to rely on support from the opposition Labor Party for the law to go through.

The law is intended to recover money lost to government revenue as a result of ''bottom of the harbor'' tax evasion schemes. These schemes involve the sale of companies to promoters who, after various dealings, dump the company and its records at the ''bottom of the harbor.''

The prime minister last week took the extraordinary step of making a radio and television broadcast to the nation to try to harness support for his proposed law. Parliament will meet next week to consider the legislation.

The crisis is proving extremely damaging for Mr. Fraser. However, his stand does appear to have wide support among voters generally.

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