Senate debates

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Bills

Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015; In Committee

4:58 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Despite the Senate hearings, community support and a general campaign from the public for greater transparency and the end of multinational tax avoidance, the Senate had already passed the amended version of the bill. The votes were here in the Senate for the legislation, but, no, the Greens have done a deal with the government to lower that threshold. Lower it—not increase it, not expand it, but lower the threshold to exempt more companies from this legislation. Make no mistake: the Greens do not actually believe in anything anymore—if they ever did. If they do, they can certainly be bought. And, judging by what happened today, they can be bought pretty cheaply as well.

I would have thought, from the Greens' high moral ground, that they would have asked for something that even the government may have blushed at giving them. The government may have given it to them in the end but would have blushed in doing so. But we do not know yet what the deal is. We assume, of course, that in lowering the threshold and walking backwards from tough multinational tax avoidance legislation the Greens have taken the high moral ground and said, 'Better something than nothing.' I think what the Greens have secured as part of this grubby deal with the government is yet to be revealed. I think Senator Cormann is clever enough to offer them a good deal, and they have taken it. What is that good deal, Senator Cormann? We will only find out in the course of time, when it comes to light and we can see what the Greens got as a consequence of signing up to this grubby deal.

I understand that, as new leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale feels the need to make his mark and fill the shoes of people like Dr Bob Brown and Christine Milne, but this is not the way to do it. It is a desperate attempt by the Greens to grasp relevancy by selling out on multinational tax avoidance. Senator Di Natale said yesterday that he was taking our advice about not just shouting from the sidelines. If this is what happens when the Greens become engaged, then please, please go back to the sidelines from whence you came. At least that way you do not break anything.

The Greens and the Liberals are legislating for multinational tax dodges to continue inhabiting the loopholes that exist in our tax system. The Greens and Liberals are in coalition on less transparency for hundreds of companies, to support the big end of town. The rational way of putting this is: you would expect the government, in a multinational tax avoidance bill, to lower the threshold. You would expect this government to try to obscure transparency. They have done that with FOI. They have an extraordinary record in making sure that there is no transparency in FOI. They have closed it down. They have shut the door, and in this area they are doing the same. They do not want the light of day to penetrate. From anybody's perspective, I can understand why the coalition wants that. The big end of town supports them. They tip their hat to the big end of town. They support the big end of town. They get their donations from the big end of town, so it makes sense. The Greens, on the other hand, have not been able to recognise that—by the way it looks. Because by signing up to this deal you have signed up to the big end of town. You have signed up to ensure that there is less transparency.

The other matter is, of course, that just like when they supported the defeat of the CPRS in the Senate, to the environment's detriment, we see them now supporting corporate tax dodgers. That is the Greens party of today. I have been here long enough to see the Greens take the high moral ground in many debates in this place over many, many hours of debating from a positive perspective—sometimes I did not agree with them, but they certainly put their arguments forward. Now we have the Greens of today. They are a mere shadow of that party, and are now the party that receives six-figure donations from corporate donors, the party that votes with the Liberals to support a watered down, weak piece of legislation that does nothing to capture the majority of multinational tax dodges. Progressives everywhere should be dismayed at the Greens' position—in fact, the Greens' capitulation.

Senator Cormann has done a good job in corralling the Greens and doing a deal with them. I would not have expected Senator Cormann to achieve that, quite frankly, but he has. He did it either through a brilliant manoeuvre or a brilliant piece of negotiation—actually, I do not think that. I would like to ascribe it to Senator Cormann, but I think they just rolled. I think he got handed it on a plate and was smart enough to take it, because I do not think the Greens would have negotiated this in a fair negotiation. I think they are desperate for relevancy and, as such, they have chosen this course. The question, however, is: for what reason would they do this? Was it simply a case of, as I have described, bad negotiation or sharp negotiation by Senator Cormann? Was it the negotiation skills of a new, weak, inexperienced leader from the Greens? Or, as I said earlier, do they expect to get something out of this which is not transparent today?

They ought to come clean in this debate and tell the Senate what they have traded for this rollover, because we will find it at some point. It will be transparent; it will bubble up to the surface as always. These things cannot be hidden.

We have the wonderful contribution by Senator McKim. I listened to it on Monday, but I thought I would share it with you again. There is the beauty of the speech by Senator McKim. I am not wont to give other senators advice in this place—it is not my place generally—but I will comment on this. It is wonderful. This is on the exemption debate with respect to the Australian citizenship bill. He said:

This is a disgraceful abuse of parliamentary process, an outrageous collusion between the government and their mates on national security in the Labor Party. They are treating this parliament with utter contempt, and I say to the crossbenchers and I say to good longstanding senators in this place: you should stand up for the Senate here. You should vote against the motion that is currently before the Senate and give us all a chance to actually get our heads around the amendments that have been put through the House of Representatives and that appeared in the Senate only moments ago this evening.

There is the beauty of that paragraph. Within fewer than three days we had Senator McKim completely ignore what he said in the debate on Monday. The only advice I would generally give to anyone is: make sure you remember what you say from one day to the next in this place, because it will come back to bite you if you overstep the mark. He was using much rhetorical flourish that day attacking the Labor Party for being sensible with respect to national security, but he also complained bitterly about our position. Within a couple of days, we find that Senator McKim ought to come back into this place and apologise for those words.

In fact, you could read Senator McKim back into that paragraph, because it is a disgraceful abuse of the parliamentary process for the Greens and the government to come together and ram this legislation through with a dirty, outrageous deal. As he went on to say, it was an outrageous collusion between the government and the Greens with respect to that matter and they are treating the parliament with utter contempt. I say to the crossbenchers and the Labor Party: good, longstanding senators in this place should stand up for the Senate here, should vote against the bill that is currently before the Senate, give us all a chance to get our heads around proper amendments to the bill and pass a much better bill than what is currently before the Senate. That would have been a much better speech given today, following on from his contribution with respect to the earlier debate. But, no, we only get that from him.

There is still an opportunity within the debate in this place to not proceed, look at the amendments that Labor have to keep the multinationals honest in this debate and ensure that any multinational tax package is fair for all and asks all Australians to pay their fair share of tax, including the multinationals. On this side of the chamber—notwithstanding that the Greens think they might sometimes be here—we think the priority should be to shut down the loopholes that allow big multinationals to send the profits overseas. We think that the coalition's path is the wrong path. They are on the path of cutting pensions and they are on the path of making sure young Australians pay more tax, while the Greens have now sidled up to them and have completely debased themselves by enjoining with the coalition on this matter.

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