Monday, 11 September 2023
Goods and Services Tax; Order for the Production of Documents
That the Senate take note of the documents.
These documents, in relation to the good and services tax, have been tabled in response to an order for the production of documents I moved last week. It's fair to say that over the last four weeks matters concerning the GST, whether it be the tax rate, the breadth of the base or the distribution system, have again reared their head in our public discourse—as they should. We have members of the House of Representatives and others arguing for holistic reform of our tax system. The government's appointee as the new chair of the Productivity Commission, Danielle Wood, has previously made public comments with regard to the rate of GST that should be levied. She also authored a Grattan Institute report which made comments in regard to the ongoing suitability of the GST distribution arrangement that was put in place as the result of legislation passed by the parliament in 2018. That 2018 fairer GST distribution deal was important for Western Australia because it did an important thing. It put in place a GST floor, first at 70c and then rising to 75c. It's important to put that floor in context. No other state has had a GST relativity that has fallen below 81c in the dollar—not ever. By that measure, the installation of a GST floor for Western Australia sounds very fair.
It's also worth noting that the Commonwealth Grants Commission forecast that without that fairer GST distribution deal Western Australia's GST relativity would have fallen to just 16c in the dollar in this financial year and even further, to 10c in every dollar, next financial year. So I—and, I dare say, every red-blooded Western Australian—am enthusiastic for the GST distribution deal insofar as the GST floor that was put in place.
I might just add, at a tangent, that the Productivity Commission played a very important role in bringing a much greater level of awareness to the GST debate when it was asked by the Morrison government to pursue an independent inquiry into the GST distribution arrangements. That's something that was very, very welcome.
The OPD that I asked of the Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, last week is an exact replica of a freedom of information request that I made of Dr Chalmers earlier in the year, which has, to this date, not been fulfilled. What the government have said today, in the tabling of these documents, is that they have an intention to fulfil that OPD but just can't do it at the moment. So my question to the government is a very, very simple one: when do you expect that OPD to be fulfilled? Perhaps Senator Brown can answer my question: when will this OPD be fulfilled? Silence. My expectation is that it will be fulfilled before the end of this week.
What is the OPD seeking to do? Documents sought by me under FOI have revealed that the Board of Treasurers, which includes every state Treasurer of the country, met on 9 September and agreed to write to Dr Chalmers to talk about the GST deal and, in particular, the GST 'no worse off' guarantee. That letter, dated 30 January 2023 and signed by Andrew Barr, the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, said:
On behalf of the Board of Treasurers … I write to you—
that is, Dr Chalmers, the federal Treasurer—
regarding the discussions at the 9 September 2022 meeting of the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR), on the GST no-worse off guarantee.
The fiscal pressures exercise that was undertaken jointly through CFFR highlighted the expenditure pressures that all governments are experiencing. This work also acknowledged the risk to State and Territory finances from the impending cessation of the Commonwealth-funded GST no-worse off guarantee from 2027-28.
The letter went on to say at its conclusion:
I would welcome further discussion with you—
that is, Dr Chalmers, the federal Treasurer—
on this matter to resolve it in the interest of all Australians. I propose that at its next meeting, the CFFR discuss a process and timeframe for resolution of this issue.
And so what I am seeking in the form of this OPD, which is exactly the same as the freedom of information request lodged earlier this year, which has still not been fulfilled, is evidence—details of all of the correspondence between the federal government and every state treasurer and territory treasurer on the future of the GST arrangements. What is the government hiding? What is Dr Chalmers and the government hiding when it comes to the GST discussions they are having behind closed doors?
I would add one other point which is much less known to people. The terms of reference for the Council on Federal Financial Relations meetings have been changed. The December 2022 terms of reference agreed by the Commonwealth Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, and others have now made deliberations of the Council on Federal Financial Relations confidential unless otherwise agreed. There is no transparency yet on the discussions that are happening between Dr Chalmers and his state and territory treasurer counterparts on the future of the GST deal.
To add weight to my effort to bring some disclosure to this, I've taken the unprecedented step of writing to the Secretary to the Treasury, asking him to ensure that the law regarding freedom of information is upheld—an extraordinary step—because the federal Treasurer does not think that he should be obliged to implement that commitment that Anthony Albanese gave Australians in August 2022 when he said that Australians deserve accountability and transparency.