House debates

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Bills

Treasury Laws Amendment (International Tax Agreements) Bill 2019; Second Reading

11:29 am

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I echo the contribution made in this place by the member for Kingsford Smith, who has been a long-time supporter of the Jewish community in his electorate. I know that that support is much appreciated by many members of his community.

This bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (International Tax Agreements) Bill 2019, is a fairly straightforward bill and one that the Labor Party supports in this place. The bill gives force to a taxation treaty between Australia and Israel that will remove the double-taxation concerns that currently exist between Australians and Israelis. As many Israeli expats live in Macnamara, this is particularly important. We have a vibrant Jewish community, including my family, in the place where I grew up in Macnamara. We have a growing number of Israelis coming to both Macnamara and surrounding communities. The member for Goldstein has a growing number of Israeli expats in his electorate, as do a number of other electorates. This bill will mean that, if people have dual citizenship or have income from one country, people won't be double taxed in Australia. I think that will be welcomed by people in my electorate and is ultimately a good thing.

The other thing this bill will do is create a situation where the Australian taxation authorities and the Israeli taxation authorities will have more cooperation. This will be especially important when dealing with multinational tax avoidance, which is a key part of our relationship with Israel economically. Both countries have a fairly similar economic story and certainly similar economic conditions. Both Australia and Israel are countries where economies have evolved and are evolving quickly. In Israel they do not have as many resources as we have here in Australia. We are absolutely blessed with resources around the country, which have been key drivers in our economy, but in Israel they are resource scarce and have had to rely on ingenuity.

In 1948, when the Labor Party was pivotal in helping to create the state of Israel, my grandfather was one of the first migrants to help establish a newly formed Jewish state after seeing many of his family and his people persecuted throughout World War II and killed off in the Holocaust. He moved to Israel and fought in 1948, in Haifa, and then also served in the Israeli navy, where he brought refugees and Holocaust survivors from Europe to Israel to give them a safe place to live after years of persecution. This is how that relates to this bill: in those days it was a desert land—it is very hot in Israel and, especially in the south, there isn't much green. What happened was that small pockets of communities—kibbutzes—were small socialist utopias, as many people fondly remember. They were small communities where they shared resources and funds, and helped build and transform a country. My grandfather was part of that generation where they turned a desert into an oasis through hard work and ingenuity. They share many of the problems we share. They have a scarcity of water. They have agricultural needs. They have a situation where they need to innovate.

Modern Israel is a far distance away from what the country looked like 70-odd years ago when it was first created. This bill allows for further cooperation. If you're in Tel Aviv now, it is one of the most picturesque, relaxing and wonderful cities in the world. It is a metropolitan city that is deeply progressive and deeply international, and where people are celebrated; one of the largest pride marches in the world happened in Tel Aviv. It is a fabulous place to go and visit.

But Israel is also one of the world's powerhouses of innovation and of IT. Many of the world's largest IT innovators and companies are in Israel, because Israel has this mentality of fostering entrepreneurship, as the previous speakers have spoken about, and a real culture of research, of innovation and of taking risks. That is why a lot of companies choose to do business there. The people and the students coming out of Israel are desperate to make their mark and to find the new innovation, the new thing, that's going to help their community and also humanity more broadly.

When I was working in the Victorian government, in 2017 I had the privilege of going with the Premier, Daniel Andrews, to Israel, to set up the first state based trade office with the state of Israel. We set it up in the same building where Google have their offices, as do PayPal and a number of other major international companies. It was all about making sure that we had more collaboration between, at that stage, the state of Victoria and Israel. It was focused on these ideas of innovation and research, and on how we can assist each other, which was really quite great to be a part of.

One of the things that that trade office signed up to in 2017 was a focus on biomedical science. Israel has some amazing research institutions. They are constantly looking for new ways to push medicines forward and the treatment of various conditions forward. In my electorate, we have the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, one of our nation's most outstanding medical research centres, focused specifically on the heart. We announced a partnership, funded by the Victorian government, where the Baker Institute partnered with the Sheba Medical Center to look at ways of protecting the heart from arrhythmias and also to help produce medicines that work against heartbeat irregularities. That is just one small example of the way that collaboration between Australian institutions and Israeli institutions can benefit both countries. Another collaboration we announced was between the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, which is in Parkville in Melbourne, and the Hadassah Medical Center, on a really fascinating piece of research focused around schizophrenia and the ways in which we can help to treat and better understand it.

This bill goes further on that notion that there is much to be gained by cooperation between our two countries. We have many similarities, economically. We both rely on water, and neither of us have very much of it. We both rely on innovation and we both have a large section of our economy which is powered by services and by IT, research and innovation. It is absolutely in our interests to ensure that Australians and Israelis can work together, and so to prevent double taxation, ultimately, is a good thing.

While I'm on my feet, I'll say: obviously, there are serious challenges that both our countries face, especially Israel. While I don't diminish many of the difficulties that Israelis and other people—and, of course, the Palestinians—face on a regular basis, I would say that this bill is important for the relationship between our peoples and our two countries, which is all about allowing people, growth, innovation and economic relationships to flourish, because Israelis and Australians deserve no less.

Finally, I also want to briefly say that yesterday I was very proud to work with the member for Wentworth on a day—and it was quite a difficult day—where we hosted Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer, and, unfortunately, their sister Elly Sapper was unwell. These are victims who suffered the most awful abuse at the hands of their school principal, who fled to Israel.

This bill shows that there is much to be gained by having a productive relationship. There is much to be gained by working together with the Israelis. I know that many people in Israel, including the ambassador, understand the pain that that particular case is causing Australians. It is a feature of our relationship and it will be a feature of our relationship until justice is served. In the meantime we on the Labor side of the House support this bill, because it enables further and greater economic cooperation between Australia and Israel, but until such stage as Malka Leifer is returned, it is important that we continue to apply the pressure. I thank the member for Wentworth and all of those on the other side of the House who helped yesterday in providing a really important day and support to the sisters, who have suffered more than enough. On that note I am pleased to support this bill. We have much to gain from improving economic relationships and improving economic conditions. We have many shared challenges, but we have much to gain by working together. I commend the bill to the House.

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