Thursday, 12 November 2015
Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015; Consideration of Senate Message
It would be one thing to come into this place and say: 'For policy reasons, we disagree with what the Senate has just done. We all want to achieve a certain outcome, but we think there is a better way of doing it than what the Senate has done. Here is a series of reasoned arguments as to why that's wrong.' But to come in here and call it a 'shabby process' shows us what is really motivating this government. Only a blue blood government with a born-to-rule mentality would call democracy a 'shabby process'.
What happened yesterday in the Senate was that the Senate said: 'We have an opportunity here to introduce a bit of transparency into our tax system. We have an opportunity to say that rules should apply across the board so that those people and those companies that are at the top end of the income spectrum in Australia have to disclose the amount of tax that they earn, so that Australians can have an informed debate, so that we can have the kind of debate that the Prime Minister has urged us all to have—one where we know the facts and they are put on the table—and so that we can have a reasoned debate about who should pay their fair share of tax.'
We are reading in the papers every day a new argument about why everyday Australians should pay a bit more in terms of the rise of the GST. Then, when we say it would be good if Australia did what some other countries have done and have a look at the disclosure around how much tax some of the wealthiest companies operating here are actually paying so that consumers might be able to then vote with their feet, or so that voters might be able to say: 'Perhaps it's right that they should pay a little bit more. Perhaps tax reform should start at the top rather than at the bottom. Perhaps you should go after some of those very wealthy private companies in Australia who may be operating under various other arrangements. Perhaps you should go after others instead of coming after us first.'
The Senate, in this instance, is much more representative of the Australian people than this government is. The Senate said, 'Maybe we can improve this bill by including a requirement not only for all of the things the government wants to do but also something that would make it better; something that would introduce a bit more transparency into our tax system.' But what we know—and we see it on every occasion, whether it is immigration or taxation—is that transparency is to this government what sunlight is to a vampire. They are scared of knowing the facts and of having the facts made available to the Australian people. We see it time and time again.
First things first: if you want a more informed debate about tax in this country, then let the Australian people know how much tax is being paid by the people at the top end of town. Let us know and then we can have an informed and reasoned debate. If you believe in democracy, do not come in here and call what happened in the Senate a shabby process. What happened in the Senate was that people from across different parts of the political spectrum said: 'It is our role as the upper house of this parliament to hold the government to account. When we think the government could be doing better we will tell them how.' When the government said that the only way to deal with tax in this system is to shield their rich mates from having to give the kind of information that in other countries is provided on a regular basis, the Senate said, 'We don't agree with that.'
The more we learn about what has happened the more we feel that we have been misled. We were misled when organisations pretending to be grassroots organisations came to us and said that there are good reasons as to why this should happen. The Senate said, 'We were astroturfed.' There was an organisation set up only to deal with the proposed mechanism that had been floated previously about requiring a bit more transparency, an organisation that was set up to represent the top part of the one per cent that most people in this country can never aspire to be in. They fronted up and they said that they were representative of what was going on. We in the Greens called them out early, but others said, 'We didn't realise that you weren't what you said, so we want to revisit the decision we made before and we want to take this chance to improve the bill.'
What happened in the Senate was democracy. The Greens are incredibly proud to have moved the amendments that are now here before this House. I would have hoped that the government might give it a bit of reasoned consideration. I would have hoped that the government might think about it for a bit longer that it has, than the 12 hours overnight. But, no, the government has come in here and said, 'It's our way or the highway.' We are going to stand up for these amendments. I am very pleased to have been part of having them passed yesterday.