Thursday, 2 September 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 2) Bill 2021; In Committee
[by video link] I would be delighted to answer that question and any others that Senator Patrick has. I'll put that in context. Do we want showmanship or substance in the Senate? Parliament, for many people in our country, has lost relevance. People laugh at Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals in particular because there's just a failure to have accountability. What we want to do is look at something substantive and significant, not just shame people indiscriminately. One Nation, like its leader, Pauline Hanson, has strength of character. We can admit when we make an error. We also value strong debate within our own party room. A staffer raised an issue with Senator Patrick's amendment which led to a lot of debate within our party room. What we realised is that Senator Patrick's amendment is not a transparency measure at all. It is a dud and it will do damage, potentially. I would like to explain why, and then I'll get to Senator Patrick's question.
Senator Patrick seeks to require the Commissioner of Taxation to publish JobKeeper payment information for entities with a turnover greater than $10 million. Note the restriction there: $10 million. So Senator Patrick is admitting there is some need for some restrictions. The proposal is said to be a transparency measure in that it is intended to allow taxpayers to see what has happened to the $90 billion spent on the JobKeeper program in the hope that the information will lead to some form of government or recipient accountability.
One Nation wants the government to be held accountable for money wasted through the poor design of the JobKeeper program—something that the parliament signed off on. We don't bury the government for that; we take partial responsibility for it, as every senator should.
Senator Patrick's amendment wants JobKeeper recipients who enriched themselves at the expense of taxpayers to be held accountable and for the money to be returned. Unfortunately, Senator Patrick's proposal will not lead to accountability, which is the purpose of any transparency measure. The proposal is poorly conceived, although well intended. Senator Patrick's proposal is founded on the power of shame, but that power is ineffective against the shameless. The individuals who pocketed JobKeeper payments that were intended to help Australian workers through the toughest of times are shameless, and this amendment will not shame them into returning the money. It will give us very little understanding about their circumstances or what they've done.
Senator Patrick's proposal shines no light on the amount of money wasted by the poor design of the JobKeeper program, because the proposal provides no way in which JobKeeper payments can be matched to an entity's other financial information. Without seeing the total picture of profit and loss, no-one can form a view about waste and enrichment at an individual business level or at a global level. Senator Patrick's proposal shows a failure to start with an end in mind—a necessary requirement for something useful to be achieved in good policy.
It's been suggested that Senator Patrick's proposal would hold the big tax avoiders accountable—that is, privately owned entities, and companies which are entirely owned by foreign companies. It won't and it can't. In the face of the total failure of Senator Patrick's proposal to hold anyone accountable, One Nation was left with no choice but to put forward an alternative proposal, and that's what we've done in Senator Hanson's amendment.
Senator Hanson's proposal is the first step in delivering real accountability to taxpayers, not showmanship. She wasn't born politically in Senator Xenophon's circus; she was born in the real world of Australian small businesses and Australian workers and families. Senator Hanson's proposal will shine a light on Australia's largest employers and largest recipients of JobKeeper payments. The reputational damage to listed companies who paid their executives bonuses from JobKeeper cannot be underestimated. That will occur with Senator Hanson's amendment.
Senator Hanson's proposed amendment on sheet 1442, will see ASIC publish on its website a consolidated report on JobKeeper payments by listed entity. This information will be useful because the matching financial information will be available in a standardised form, and that is one key to accountability.
Senator Hanson's real transparency measure will lead to a level of accountability through reputational damage to listed companies and by quantifying part of the money wasted by the poor design of the JobKeeper program. It will not tarnish those that have done the right thing. It will not lump everyone into the same basket. It will separate those, obviously, who have rorted it and deserve shame, from those who've done the right thing by their employees.
Senator Patrick's amendment is not an alternative transparency measure because it can achieve nothing. It is open to the Senate to work on other transparency measures which will lead to accountability in respect of the JobKeeper program. I gave an invitation to Senator Patrick and the Labor Party last night when I spoke about joining us to get real accountability through a proper, thorough audit. Neither mentioned it in their responses; not one word about it.
One Nation welcomes the opportunity to retrospectively fix the design of the JobKeeper program. If One Nation's amendment is not supported, we will know that Senator Patrick, the other crossbench senators, Labor and the Greens were only ever interested in virtue signalling rather than accountability. Peter Strong, the former head of COSBOA, said that Senator Patrick's amendment will be very difficult for small and medium enterprises to comply with. Senator Patrick's amendment purports to do one thing and doesn't achieve that. It's an ill-conceived dud.
What I will do now is to continue to address some of the points that Senator McAllister and Senator Patrick raised last night. Firstly, Senator Patrick's amendment would ultimately lead to every Australian business being forced to disclose their profit and loss statements, which could potentially lead to the nation's banks calling in loans to businesses they deem a risk following the impact of COVID. That's a serious threat, because the Labor Party and the Liberal and National parties have given the banks extraordinary power in this country.
Secondly, businesses needed to meet the test only once, and that was very simple. Mum-and-dad businesses had to see a 30 per cent decline in their turnover in any given month in which the JobKeeper payment began. Any business with a turnover of over $1 billion had to show a decline in their business of 50 per cent. It was quite clear. The ATO, the Australian Taxation Office, ultimately determined the legitimacy of all JobKeeper applications.
Thirdly, if Senator Patrick and Labor are worried about whether or not Gina Rinehart received JobKeeper, we can assure you she didn't, as one of our staff phoned her and asked the question this morning. The mining and farming sectors of this nation help pay for the spoils of JobKeeper, and they will continue to pay for the spoils of JobKeeper long into the future.
I'll make some miscellaneous comments. Our position is because this is an issue of context and fairness. It is not about simply naming and shaming. That shames the guiltless—the innocent. This is about context and fairness. One of our staffers pointed it out to us, and Senator Hanson and I had the guts to discuss this and debate it and then come to a different conclusion from our initial conclusion. We don't mind saying we made a mistake. We don't mind saying we're sorry. We don't mind saying we're wrong. We don't mind saying: 'We don't know. Can you help us?' But now, after we've done more work, we know our position is correct on this. We want to protect workers and honest employers, and we want to have an effective transparency measure, not a dud. What's on trial is not Aussie workers. It's not the employees. We've got to remember that. We're happy to be hard on foreign firms—and Aussie firms—but it's important to uphold Aussie values in doing so, and that means fairness and integrity. We do what is best in accordance with Australia's national interest, in accordance with Australian values. That's extremely important.
I'd just like to finish up by saying that, after the drought broke recently in places, a small business, a tractor dealer employing very few people, could sell enough equipment to cross that $10 million threshold. We need to understand that small business in context. We are tired of the Labor Party spending decades protecting foreign companies. The petroleum resource rent tax comes to mind, as do many other initiatives. Senator Patrick's amendment is an ill-conceived dud that we woke up to at the last minute. We ask the senators interested in genuinely and fairly holding recipients accountable to vote for our amendment.