Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Matters of Public Importance


4:01 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This is an important debate, and I note that my good friend Senator Edwards will be following me in this debate. I want to begin by talking a bit about the bipartisan nature of a lot of the work that has been done. I note, Senator Edwards, that your party has afforded you 10 minutes in this debate and I have only been afforded five minutes, which clearly makes you twice as popular as I am!

This is a debate that the nation needs to have and is having. I want to start by touching on the work that has been done, in a very bipartisan fashion, through the Senate Economics References Committee, which is chaired by me and the deputy chair of which is Senator Edwards. What we have seen is company after company, sector across sector using what I call some very sharp practices and practices around the edges of what is and is not appropriate in many cases to be able to minimise their tax arrangements and minimise the tax they pay in this country. We have seen it in the tech sector. We have seen it in the mining sector. We have seen it in the LNG sector. We have seen it in the pharmaceutical sector. And we have seen these same practices and types of practices, be it transfer pricing, be it debt loading or be it hybrid structures—simply arrangements that are built for the sole intention of minimising tax liability.

Where we disagree is on how far and how we should address it. I want to say—and, again, I am very conscious of time—that the bill that was introduced by Joe Hockey as one of his last acts as Treasurer of this country is a good bill. It is a bill worthy of being supported but it is not enough. There are more measures. There are more steps. There are ways of improving that legislation, and simply arguing that you can make a bill better does not mean you do not believe there is not something good in that bill to begin with. I want to acknowledge the work of the former Treasurer and I want to acknowledge the work of Senator Edwards in this space. But there are some disagreements here and that is a healthy part of this debate. Where we disagree is on how far we should go and what needs to be done especially around the issue of transparency.

What we saw overnight was an extraordinary list of 1,498 companies that Lenore Taylor from The Guardian put up on their website which demonstrates who the companies are who have been given a special exemption to allow them not to have to put in ASIC forms and for whom there is no publicly available information. These are the companies whose affairs we have been unaware of and, as a result, the types of companies who if better tax transparency measures were put into place the Australian public would have some information on.

This is a worthy debate for this chamber to have. It is important for us. As we have gone through this debate over the past year—and I think it has been a big and constructive debate this chamber has had—I have remained of the view that shining a light in these corners, greater transparency and more information will not only better inform the Australian public but will actually drive policy change in this area, That is a positive development. That is a development that I support.

In coming days, we are going to have this debate once again. I do not want to pre-empt legislation that is listed on the Notice Paper, but perhaps in coming days we will have a debate more specifically around the Hockey legislation and what we should and should not do with amendments.

I urge the crossbenchers who supported improving the bill last time to maintain the rage, if you will, and to maintain the support of improving this bill. Make sure that we are putting in as many and as strong transparency measures as possible and do what we can do to make what is a positive and good bill better, because that is the objective of this chamber and that is the role of this Senate. It is to take legislation that has been passed to us by the House and see how we can improve it, and one of the great ways of improving it is through transparency. One of the great ways of improving it is making sure that that Australian public has the information they so want and deserve.


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