Wednesday, 4 March 2020
I rise to speak against the motion. If the government wants to postpone a bill on multinational tax avoidance it needs to explain to the House why. We have gone through a week, and most of last week, where the only thing we were dealing with was appropriations, where bills like this have been put off into the never-never again and again. We've had speech after speech on the only bill where no-one has to talk about the legislation and the only question before the House was whether or not money that everyone agrees should be paid would be paid. That's all the appropriations debate was. That's all this parliament has done. All that time, we've been waiting for the next bill in order after the education bill, which is the Treasury laws amendment bill that deals with multinational tax avoidance. After these weeks of waiting to get to the moment when the House would deal with multinational tax avoidance, without giving a single reason, without giving one single reason, the minister stands up and says, 'Let's just move on to something else.'
The parliament is in fact meant to follow an agenda. The government is in fact meant to have program. I've got to say I have never seen a program as light as the one this parliament has these days. We've had time after time where the speeches that we got were only on the Governor-General address-in-reply and on appropriations bills. If it continues this way, there will be members of parliament elected at the last election who will never have given a substantive speech on legislation.
They won't have. Look at the list. Every time we deal with a bill with substantive legislation—in this entire year we are yet to have a piece of legislation where we have had a division on the second reading. Everything that has been in front of us has been the ordinary business of government that is thrown up by the departments each year and that both sides of politics agree has to happen, but in terms of a government with a plan or with some sort of agenda there's nothing. When they want to change even the agenda of the day in parliament they don't even bother to give the minister a speech to say, 'Here's why.' I don't blame the member of the executive at the table; it's not his job to choose all the words. Someone should have given you something you could have read out on why we're delaying dealing with multinational tax avoidance. It's a serious thing to put off. It's a serious decision of the parliament to decide that multinational tax avoidance won't be dealt with today. We had Monday where we dealt all day—all day—with whether or not we would pay bills that everybody agrees have to be paid. We had Tuesday where we dealt—all day—with whether or not we would pay bills that everybody agrees have to be paid. In the first half of today we dealt with whether or not we would pay bills that automatically have to be paid. We spent the debate for the entirety of last week—
Mr Falinski interjecting—
You know you've been warned. You know there's probably a vote coming up. Can I encourage you to keep interjecting on me? I'd love it. I shouldn't have told him that, Deputy Speaker Claydon. That one's on me. But, after all of last week, where once again we were not dealing with substantive legislation, where the question before the chair was whether or not appropriations should be paid, the government now gets to, first, an education bill where the only controversial issue on it, in terms of whether the bill will be supported or not, was whether the third reading should take place today or tomorrow. That was the only issue.
Today, though, we now have legislation that deals with multinational tax avoidance and no-one from the government can tell us why they're putting it off. No-one from the government can tell us why it's been delayed. Some in the government had aspirations as to what they'd do when they became members of parliament. What happens when you get here? You discover your main job is to vote that the Leader of the Opposition be no further heard. There's an achievement. All those thoughts and policy ideas that came to you from constituents—all those people who would have gone to every one of you saying, 'Can't we do something about multinational tax avoidance?'—you find out now you're going to vote to put it off, and you don't even have a government that will tell you why.
I acknowledge the interjection from the former future Deputy Speaker. I acknowledge his interjection as he leaves the room. His interjection matches the contribution that he has made to the parliament, and the parliament has already had a chance to vote specifically on a vote about him.
What I will say, on what people were told by their constituents and what they told them: count the number of votes you've had on substantive matters. Count the number of votes you've had this term, and count up how many times your contribution to the parliament has been that someone who disagrees with you won't be heard. I think you'll find it's a majority of votes you've been in. That's what's happened. I don't doubt the goodwill of people when they first run for parliament. I don't doubt, with people who we fought in marginals or who took on safe seats for those opposite, that while we have different views there is goodwill and there are good reasons that people want to be here. But then they arrive and discover the only agenda from this government, the only agenda that this government has, is to vote to silence members of the opposition and to make sure that the Leader of the Opposition, whenever he stands up on a suspension, gets four words out and no more. That's what the Prime Minister, who normally sits in that chair, hasn't just reduced the parliament to—he's reduced your contribution to that as well. This is real. I don't doubt that you came here for good reasons—different policy views, but good reasons—for what you believed you could achieve. Look at how that man who normally sits there is making you vote, and think about the contribution and the aspirations that you had and what your contribution is being reduced to.
Today, you get to have a little bit more. You're not just being asked to silence opposition members; you're being asked to put off something substantive. You're being asked to put off a bill about multinational tax reform. To use the Prime Minister's trick, hands up how many of you know why. How many of you know why it's being put off? This is a bill that's gone through your party room. You've had a minister stand up in the party room and tell you why this was a good thing to support, and you've all agreed it should be supported. Every office was delivered the blue today and you were told this is what we'd be debating next. Now, all of a sudden, you're not and you haven't been told why. The parliament hasn't been told why.
Don't think that this room doesn't matter. This room is not a bubble. This room is the heart of democracy in Australia, and that's why you contested elections and that's why your constituents voted for you. The man who normally sits in that chair opposite has reduced your contribution to your principal role being to silence people with a different view—which makes the term 'debating chamber' a bit odd—and now to get rid of a bill about multinational tax reform without telling any of you why.
I'm not pretending that this speech will make a difference to the vote that follows. But all of you are involved in conversations in your parties and, if you cared enough to run for parliament, you should use those conversations to make this a parliament again. It should be one. We should be proud that we have been chosen by our electorates to come here and represent their interests and we should be confident enough of our different views that we can debate them out and argue them out and then the public could see that somehow their opinions were given voice.
What you're going to be asked to do in a moment is to put off something that everybody would have told you matters—and no-one has told you why you're putting it off. You've been here for weeks where substantive legislation has not been before us, and you have been treated abominably by those you have chosen to be the leaders of your side of this House.
An honourable member interjecting—
Oh, no, the outrage is real, mate—because I believe that this parliament matters, and I think you'll find that more of your colleagues do as well.
It didn't happen under John Howard like this. It did not happen under Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull. There would be occasions where the closure was moved but the key question used to be whether or not leave would be granted. Now it is whether or not you can get more than four words out. For those of you who have former members of your own party in your own area, ask them whether this is new—because it is and your role and your contribution is being belittled. Whether you stand up for yourselves or you just let the Prime Minister tell you that what you've been elected to is a bubble that doesn't matter, that's up to you. We're opposing this.
The bill should not be postponed. Parliament should debate the matter which is before the House for the reasons that were set out in minister's second reading speech. I've got to say that, when the minister came into this place and introduced a bill which is going to address the problem of multinational tax avoidance, I did not doubt for a moment that he was genuine. But I did doubt his commitment, because this government has form on avoiding bills that deal with multinational tax avoidance.
We all remember their great announcements in the last budget. We were going to address this $13 billion problem of multinational tax avoidance, and I want you to remember that number—$13 billion worth of tax avoidance. That's the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme budget. That's what we're talking about. That's what we're putting off—the amount of money equivalent to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme budget. They told us that they were going to set up a task force—'We're going to have a task force to drill down into the issue and chase down the $13 billion worth of multinational tax avoidance.' It sounds good. It sounds very good. It sounds like something that every member in this House would, I'm sure, get behind. But a few weeks ago we learnt—like so much that this bloke from the marketing department puts out—that there was no task force; the task force didn't exist. It was all spin and marketing from the champion of spin and marketing. And we see it again today: a bill brought before the House that is going to deal with a $13 billion problem.
There are a lot of members in the House at the moment. When I looked across the chamber, I thought, 'This is good; we're going to get a speech from each and every one of them about how committed they are to addressing the scourge of multinational tax avoidance—$13 billion worth every year—and the things that they could put their money towards in their electorates.' I'd have been very interested to hear those speeches. I wondered why all of these members were in the House, and I was certain that they were here to talk about multinational tax avoidance. But, instead of that, they're all lined up to shut down debate. What is it that they're going to put ahead of this in the parliamentary agenda? I'm sure they don't even know the answer to that. They are here to once again gag debate, as they have done time and time again this week.
The honourable member complains that we repeat the accusation against them, but time and time again they close down debate. They don't want to hear any opposing voices. They think that this parliament is their toy and their plaything. Well, it's not.
Let me think. No, it is good. This is actually under the standing orders. Will the member take an intervention and explain why the Australian Taxation Office says that the problem is less than $2 billion, but he keeps quoting it's $13 billion?
I understand the member is using standing order 66A. In which case he should in the first instance see whether or not an intervention is permitted. He may well get the chance, but, having tried this, I know that sometimes you don't. He should first seek to make an intervention and then there will be an opportunity to find out whether he gets to make it, rather than throwing it all in at the front.
Wouldn't it be good if this intervention were in the debate on this bill that should be before the House at the moment. The member obviously has a deep interest in this bill. He raises a valid point that the tax office estimated back in 2016-17 that the unpaid tax by multinational companies in this country was somewhere in excess of $2 billion a year. However, there are many other learned contributors to this debate who estimate that this is a very conservative estimation and it is likely to be much closer to $13 billion, because company after company—
Actually I should have ruled you out of order last time. The Clerk has brought to my attention that you can't take an intervention at this time. It's not an order of the day. I think that's the right language. I shouldn't have accepted it the first time, so I'm sure as hell not accepting it a second time. I give the call to the member for Whitlam.
I think the member for Mackellar's intervention bespeaks the keenness for him to speak on the side of the debate for why the bill should be brought forward and debated in accordance with the Notice Paper. He has obviously got a lot of interest and knowledge on the bill and on the subject matter of multinational tax avoidance. I would welcome an intervention from the member for Mackellar at the appropriate point in time if this bill were brought on for debate. But, unfortunately, in a short moment I'm quite confident that the member for Mackellar, alongside each and every one of the members opposite, is going to vote to ensure that we don't get the opportunity to do that, to ensure that we don't get the opportunity not only to make a speech in the second reading debate but to examine the bill in detail. He has obviously got a lot of questions and a lot of issues that he wants to ventilate on this bill.
It probably would interest the member for Mackellar to know that company after company has been exposed paying zero tax on their Australian operations, including some impoverished entities and some really struggling multinational corporations, such as Goldman Sachs, Shell and IBM.
In fact, under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison-Truss-Joyce—weren't they golden eras!—and now McCormack government, as many as one-third of all large companies paid no income tax at all. In fact, data issued by the Australian tax office in December of last year showed that, out of 2,214 large companies, as many as 710 of them paid no tax whatsoever in the year 2017-18. The member for McKellar asks out of order why we say the number is much closer to $13 billion than the tax office's estimate of $2 billion. It's because of that very number. It's because of that very number—and we're not talking about corner shops here: 710 companies pay no tax whatsoever. That includes 102 firms reporting more than $1 billion in total income. I want you to contrast that to the average single Australian worker, who pays 25 per cent of their income in taxes. Large companies earning over a billion dollars average tax payments of only two per cent of their income. I can't think of a more important thing for us to be debating right now, but these members opposite want to debate anything else. They want to play silly parlour games when speaking to the motion.
A government member interjecting—
The member asked me to speak to the motion. We are arguing that these are the matters that should be debated. We should not be postponing this bill, because it is of vital importance to every member in this place—$13 billion worth of unpaid taxes, over 700 companies paying no tax whatsoever, 102 firms who earn more than a billion dollars in total income and yet they pay no tax. Somehow those opposite think that's okay. We on this side of the House don't think it's okay; we think it's a matter of national urgency. Like the minister who introduced this bill into the House, we think we should be debating it today.