Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Matters of Public Importance


4:35 pm

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

I note that as Acting Deputy President, Senator Leyonhjelm, you cannot comment in a debate or interject! When you reach a debt of half a trillion dollars but are still too weak on taxing multinationals, saying, 'We are going to have $65 billion'—$65 billion!—'in tax cuts for big business', while, at the same time not funding education to the extent it needs to be funded, then you have a government that is lost, a government that has its priorities mixed up and a government that has lost touch in governing for all Australians. It should not come as a surprise. Here we are on the Tuesday of the last week of sitting for this session. We are about to go off for a seven-week break, and those of us sitting here on this side of the chamber are not even clear what the government's position on school funding is going to be 24 hours from now. Why? Because the government itself has no idea.

Let's be clear: in politics, within parties and in the Senate there is always negotiation, and nothing is settled until it is settled. What the government is facing at the moment is not a question of what they have to negotiate with other parties on for the passage of legislation; it is what they have to negotiate with themselves on to actually have a position that is going to be passable. At 5 o'clock today we will be saying goodbye to Senator Back. Formal speeches will be made about his contribution, which I think has been a considerable one in his time in the Australian Senate. I understand that there will be an opportunity to say a few words about him then. But Senator Back came out this week and made it very clear that he has issues with the education policy as it has been structured. Senator Abetz, and Mr Andrews and Mr Abbott in the other place, and others have raised their concerns repeatedly. Why? Because they are highlighting what is their fundamental problem when it comes to priorities.

There are principles that we all agree on, and the facts are these: budgets are about priorities, and governments have to make decisions with limited finite resources. What this motion is saying is that if you accept that as the basic principle then why is it that the actions that are being taken on multinational tax minimisation are still so weak? I have said before that I believe the government has done some good things in this area. I think we are in a better position now because of some of those measures than had we not done them. I believe a lot of that happened because the government was dragged kicking and screaming to that position, but there has been some good legislation. Do I believe it goes far enough? No. Do I believe there is a lot more that can be done? Yes. There is a lot more that can be done. But to turn around and look at giving tax cuts to big business at the same time as having a debate about how you are going to fund schools and not put on the table the resources that are needed to properly fund our schools shows a complete lack of direction and judgement. When it is the government's own members—the government's own backbench—who are raising and highlighting these concerns, it shows how lost and out of touch the government is.

Tax office data from 2014-15 shows that one in three large firms in Australia pay no tax—one in three. That includes 109 companies that pay no tax despite reporting more than $1 billion in total income. Let's be clear: you only pay tax on profit. Those companies have claimed that they have not made a profit. There are companies, including big companies, that have good years and bad years. There are big companies that occasionally do not make a profit and legitimately have a reason to pay no tax. When you see numbers as large as this, the concern is that there are companies—and we know this happens; we have seen evidence of this happening—who are gaming the system and creating a pretence in their books through accounting tricks and strategies. Many of these practices are legal, but some are dubious and some are—I think the term used in the industry is—'sharp practices', where companies give the pretence of not being profitable or where they appear on paper as not being profitable for the sole purpose of minimising their tax obligations. Many companies have done this. We have had Senate report after Senate report and inquiry after inquiry, including one large inquiry with many, many hearings, that has exposed this. Frankly, all the measures that have been taken have not been enough. The government's priorities are wrong, and the government has lost direction.


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