Thursday, 3 December 2015
Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015; In Committee
I did flag this earlier: Labor will be supporting this amendment. I think this is a timely measure. I think we have to be fairly honest and not pussyfoot around this issue. This has been a very vexed and difficult matter over many years. The 1500 companies we are talking about—these private companies—do represent some of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential Australians. This is a provision that was given initially on a temporary basis. I think it is the right time and the right move for it to be remove I think the community out there desperately wants more information and more transparency, and I believe it is difficult to explain why particular companies are treated one way simply because of a grandfathering that was initially designed as a temporary provision and are treated differently from other companies. I think the arguments fall flat, especially the transparency arguments or even the privacy arguments or the other arguments, when you realise that there are a certain number of companies that get this special treatment and nobody else gets that same treatment. It is the inconsistency that I believe is really at the heart of it.
I note that the list that was produced by ASIC—and I think The Guardian ran the entire list online—had on it one of the Prime Minister's companies, Turnbull and associates. The Prime Minister rightly contacted ASIC and had himself removed from the grandfather list. How that process is undertaken is really a matter for them. We will find out at estimates. I want to point out that, when you have a situation where it is such a bad look that even the Prime Minister himself realises that being on this list is so toxic that he has to remove himself immediately from being notified by the media that he is on this list, you have to question why 1,497 companies remain on that list. That is the 2011 list; a few people may have been moved since then.
I believe it is an important, timely matter. I believe there has previously been a lot of lobbying for the maintenance of these kinds of grandfathering exemptions. I think it is right for the Labor Party to be voting to remove the grandfathering provision. I believe that we did many, many great things in the area of disclosure and transparency in the last Labor government. Again, I have extensively gone through that in this chamber in previous speeches.
As I said earlier—and there are more senators here, so I want to say it again—I believe, Senator Muir, that this is a good amendment. This is an important measure. This is increased transparency. Perhaps, had you been in the last parliament and had the balance of power to help hold political and major parties to account as you are able to do in this parliament, you would have been able to improve some of that legislation, which was great legislation. These are the types of measures with which we would all have been better off had you brought them into the parliament. So I want to congratulate you for this amendment.
I have to say that the Greens political party have made it clear—and I raised this with them this morning—that they will not be supporting this amendment. I believe that is a real disappointment. The logic that has been presented both to me and in the media is this: 'Oh, that's okay. We can come back to this amendment. We can come back. There's nothing stopping the Senate having a private member's bill, and there's nothing stopping the Senate from passing this later.' That is absolutely baloney when you come to the reality.
Let us be clear about the leverage. The government's position, in fairness, has not been inconsistent on this front. They have actually been incredibly consistent. The government's position has been that they do not support grandfathering. What the government needed to get passed and wanted to get passed was the Joe Hockey legacy bill which we are debating today, which we are amending at the moment. As we have said repeatedly, it is not a bad piece of legislation; it just does not go anywhere near far enough. Adding grandfathering as part of the disclosure requirements would have simply improved that bill. Frankly, without the support of the Greens political party, it is unlikely that the amendment will pass in this chamber. The leverage to get that big change, to get that important change, to get these 1,497 companies in that disclosure, is about to be lost. On the idea that there could be some private member's bill and that we pass them all the time in this chamber: as senators know, we have great debates, and unfortunately we know where private members' bills go unless you have the leverage. The leverage was here. The leverage was attaching it to this bill, and the Greens sold it out.