Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015; In Committee
As a point of clarification, I just want to confirm that we are discussing the second amendment that was put up by the Australian Greens yesterday evening. Is that the amendment we are discussing at the moment? Is that correct?
The CHAIRMAN: There is no amendment before the chamber at the moment. It has not been moved.
There is an opportunity that this Senate has before it, this morning, to pass what can potentially be a very good piece of legislation. As those of us on this side of the chamber, certainly in Labor, have previous said, we are very supportive of the bill that the government has put together, the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. However, we have felt and continue to feel that with some small, minor amendments this bill can be improved. Frankly, this is not the ideal bill. It is not the bill that I would have put forward. It is not the bill that I would have said is the perfect and right bill. But there are some opportunities here to make a few amendments and some small amendments that will be able to improve the bill.
One of the great opportunities is an amendment that has not yet been moved by the Australian Greens. That amendment is looking at being able to restate and put in some of the measures as they relate to tax transparency and making sure that a handful of very large, very powerful, private corporations are not able to hide behind their own structure. Let us be clear here: this is not mum and dad small businesses. These are some major entities. These are some of Australia's largest businesses, and we are talking about businesses that have revenue of over $100 million a year.
In the past few days we have seen an expose where a small, pretend astroturf group took the Senate Economics Legislation Committee for a ride. We found that the representations being made were being put together by a small group of paid lobbyists who were pretending and purporting to represent the broader community. Heath Aston from the Sydney Morning Herald should be congratulated for his expose of this matter and the demonstration of which all of us need to be conscious—that, while we in this chamber go through our committee process, understandably, senators, Senate staff and the secretariats of our various committees will and should work on the principle that the information being presented to them and the witnesses coming before them are genuine.
What was so disappointing here was that we were all taken advantage of; we were all given a false assessment. It showed that there is not a groundswell of opposition to this information being published. There is a small group of incredibly wealthy, powerful individuals who have structured themselves as private family companies for tax disclosure purposes and who do not want this information out. They are prepared to pay large amounts of money to lobbyists to create pretend organisations, pretend grassroots movements. This was exposed because the phone number that was on the end of their submission turned out to be the law office which also happened to be where this group was registered, which also happened to be one of the other submitters in this process. We found that a con job was being perpetrated against the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. That expose changes some of these material facts.
I think the Australian Greens amendment goes a long way to making sure that there is greater disclosure and greater transparency. Let us be clear: it means that information that has already been collected and gathered by the Australian Taxation Office would be disclosed. This is not any additional burden on the ATO; this is information they already have, information they have already collected, information they were anticipating they would be disclosing in December. If the Australian Greens were to move their proposed amendment, that is what it would do if it were passed.
Minister, does the government believe there is an opportunity, through different amendments, to improve this legislation? Has the government had an opportunity to sit down and have a look at these amendments? Furthermore, Minister, has the government been talking to crossbenchers and other parties about ways this bill could be improved?
As has already been canvassed in relation to the Greens proposed amendment, colleagues would be aware that on 15 October the parliament passed a bill to amend the legislation that directs the Commissioner of Taxation to publish confidential taxation information of Australian controlled private companies. The government introduced the amendment because publication of the taxation information of these companies would have effectively disclosed the owners' financial affairs and posed a risk to their position in the market by making key economic information available to their competitors and suppliers.
It is important to note that the amending legislation has no impact on the comprehensive powers of the Commission of Taxation to require companies to produce any information that is relevant to making an assessment of their tax liability. The public disclosure of tax information at law will continue to apply to multinational enterprises operating in Australia and to Australian public companies. The government has made clear that every company, indeed every taxpayer, must pay the right amount of tax and, to that end, has tightened the thin capitalisation laws applicable to the amount of interest that may be deducted. It has introduced new legislation to tackle tax avoidance by large multinationals.
The government is focused on ensuring that the Commissioner of Taxation has all the powers he needs to ensure multinational companies pay taxes on profits earned in Australia. As has been made clear, the government will not be supporting the Greens amendment.
It is ridiculous to make the point about hiding behind commercialisation; if the information is made available those companies would then be subject to attack by other companies, they would have all of their financial affairs on the record. No-one is suggesting that. These are very tight laws that require disclosure, and if that was the case then it would apply to a publicly listed company as well—but it does not. What I want to hear is why there is a difference between a publicly listed company and a privately listed company as to the proper disclosure of the information. The argument has been simply a broad-brush approach, and if that argument were true then it would also apply to publicly listed companies so that they should not have their annual report, their information, their financial affairs listed because it would somehow be available to their competitors and they would then be short-changed in the market and not have the ability to progress whatever deals they were doing. Of course it does not stop publicly listed companies from doing all of those things properly and appropriately in the marketplace.
We want to see proper transparency, but this government does not like transparency—it hides behind, now, a new corporate veil to disguise its position because it wants to hide the big end of town. That is the short answer; that is the true answer. I do not think, with respect, that the argument progressed by the minister holds water. If it did hold water, and if that point was valid, why was it passed in first place and why were they going to be compliant with that? I think the piper has been paid the money and the big end of town has said 'Be sure to play this tune.' The government is hiding behind some very loose rhetoric. In any event, it is long overdue that these issues are being dealt with appropriately and properly in this place.
I concur with the remarks made by Senator Ludwig, particularly in relation to raising issues about transparency. That is why Labor has been calling for so long for action by this government to bring legislation like this to the parliament so that we can have more transparency and this government can stop hiding the big end of town away from tax payments and more broadly deal with the issue of tax avoidance. Why has Labor been doing this and why are we here today at this point? We are here because we live very much in a globalised world, a digitised world, a world where our economy is constantly changing, where multinational companies can move their profits from country to country and as a result avoid paying their fair share of tax. Labor has been calling for more action on multinational tax avoidance for over two years. It was six months or maybe even longer than six months ago that we laid out our own package—a package of $7.2 billion to close these tax loopholes and keep revenue here in Australia. You would think the government would think that was a good thing.
Now that we are going into the detail of this bill, it would be helpful if the government made it clear that they are going to pursue this kind of tax reform under a principle of transparency and accountability of those large multinational companies so that they start paying their fair share of tax and so Australian small businesses and individuals are not left picking up the slack. That has been the reality up until now. Why should Australian small businesses, of which there are a plethora, and individuals end up picking up the slack whilst these large multinational companies that are making massive profits get away with tax avoidance?
I would like to know, as Senator Ludwig referred to, how the government is going to tighten Australia's tax net in relation to the transparency principle. I think that is the most important thing here, other than, obviously, this legislation passing, multinational companies paying their fair share of tax and this issue of profit-shifting being tackled. I am really pleased that we are now doing this after the couple of years or more that it has taken to get to this point.
I would like to know in some detail how that transparency principle is going to be part of the government's agenda, its approach, as it goes forward in dealing with this issue and this reform. My understanding is that something like three of the five biggest companies in the world are companies that make their money primarily on the basis of intellectual property. If that is the case—I would imagine that could be the case, because we are very much living in a digitised world economy, so those issues could be seen as being part of that—is there is any focus by this government on those particular multinationals? We are talking about intellectual property being an important component of the Australian economy and the rights of small businesses and the like. Again, this goes to the heart of the issue of transparency. It also shows the complexities involved in relation to multinational companies and how they have managed to profit shift for all these years.
I am no expert when it comes to the tax avoidance workings of multinational companies, but I am aware that these issues have been looked at in other countries in great detail. The UK is a good example of that. Australia is not immune to multinationals behaving in this way. It is happening right across the globe, because that is the nature of a globalised economy and that is the nature of these particular large companies and the way that they make their profits, unfortunately. We all bear the brunt of that; we miss out in the process of that.
As I said, without that greater transparency, we will never know whether these major companies, these major corporations, are paying their fair share of tax. The government has started a whole new debate in relation to raising the GST and is particularly looking at everyday, individual Australians, including low-income individuals, because it is a regressive tax that affects everybody. Why is it doing that? It is looking at whether all taxpayers are contributing their fair share. You cannot raise that kind of argument—'Let's look at our tax base, our tax system and whether Australians are paying their fair share'—and, at the same time, allow all of these large multinationals to profit shift and not make their own contribution. This is an issue of transparency. It is a really important that transparency becomes one of the most effective tools for this government to combat profit-shifting and tax avoidance by these multinationals.
It is my hope that the government not only shows a commitment to ensuring that these major corporations pay their fair share of tax but also pushes transparency laws—that this government does not gut our tax transparency laws but instead stands by them. That would serve not just the interests of good governance—although that would be a start—but the interests of all Australians, who would be benefit from knowing exactly what is going on with tax avoidance by large multinationals. That is something they certainly would not know at this point in time. I ask the minister to outline, as Senator Ludwig has already alluded to, how the government is going to stand by the principle of transparency rather than continuing to hide the big end of town on this issue of multinational tax avoidance.
Evidence was heard by the Senate Economics Committee that up to a thousand of Australia's biggest privately owned companies would be exempt from providing information—basic information. I remind the Senate what that information is. We are not asking for much. We are asking for the ABN and the name of the company; we are asking for total income for the income year; we are asking for taxable income or net income, if any, for the income year; and we are asking for income tax payable, if any, for the financial year. That is it. That is what we are asking each of these thousand companies to provide. It is not much. As Senator Xenophon discovered, if you go to ASIC, you get a lot more information than that—you get a thick file of consolidated accounts for all these companies. But what we want is a register that is publicly available, a net that captures all these corporations—because some of them we do not know about. It is hard to seek the information you want from ASIC if you do not know of their existence. The ATO should know of their existence, but that is not, as we discussed yesterday, in the realm of the public debate. Minister, who lobbied you or your government to bring in the original exemption? Have you had any direct discussions with the Family Office Institute of Australia?
I do not accept the premise of Senator Whish-Wilson's proposition that the government responds to particular lobbying activities. The government looks at what it believes is in the interests of the broader community. That is what this legislation is about.
I find that really hard to believe. This was about to become law—in fact it had already become law, but we had seen no disclosure around it—and you put up a bill to create an exemption, unfortunately passed by the Senate, that effectively shielded privately owned companies from increased transparency. That is all we were asking for. I find it hard to believe that that is something that you, the coalition, decided was necessary for the public interest—and I underline the words 'public interest'. Someone must have lobbied the government or Liberal MPs to bring in this exemption. I find it hard to believe that you suddenly woke up one morning and, while shaving and looking in the mirror, decided this was a good exemption to bring to the Senate. All of us in here are a bit smarter than that and we know how it works. Which wealthy individual or business—or which front companies for wealthy individuals—lobbied the government. We know they have astroturfed our Senate recommendation. Unfortunately, to our detriment, we let that happen. But who lobbied you to bring this in, Minister?
You did not answer my question, Minister. The legislation I am talking about is the legislation around tax disclosure which we have been talking about for nearly two hours—around transparency. We discussed it at length yesterday. I understand you were not here for this. It has been called other things by, for example, those in the media—amendments for the coalition's rich mates and other things like that. There are lots of different terms we could call this if you do not want to use the technical term for it. Let us call it the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill 2015. That is the specific bill that I am asking you to refer to. I want to know what motivated the coalition to bring forward this amendment to the existing laws. It essentially shields wealthy individuals in this country from providing very basic tax information.
Again, I do not accept the premise of Senator Whish-Wilson's proposition, which is that there are particular individuals of greater than usual influence who are getting the government to do something that the government would not otherwise have done. It sounds like Senator Whish-Wilson is presenting a conspiracy theory that involves government, darkened rooms and individuals. That is the scenario that Senator Whish-Wilson is seeking to paint, and it is wrong.
This is a significant matter of public interest, beginning a transparency process around potential tax avoidance, and it is not to say that these 1,000 companies are avoiding tax. But we have all agreed that the evidence we have heard through the committee and elsewhere is that transparency is a good place to start. Minister, if you had presented an argument perhaps today or previously that it was a significant amount of red tape for the ATO to construct this register or for these businesses to comply, then maybe that would be a reasonable argument as to why the coalition might decide to put up an amendment to shield wealthy individuals from providing transparency around their tax affairs. But, as we have discovered, go to ASIC—$38—and it is already there in comprehensive information. So how is it an issue to simply have a register of companies, with the ABN and name, total income for the year, taxable income or net income, if any, and income tax payable? In fact we have looked at the potential costs in the legislation and they are not very big. So what is the argument? Why can we not have a register, if that is what the public want?
We heard yesterday from second readers and in committee about the big coalition across this country, not just the Tax Justice Network, which constitutes dozens of community groups and social enterprises and those who want to see this country move in the right direction around good public policy. They want to see parliament taking some action. This is actually a really simple place to start. It is not a silver bullet—I totally agree with that—but it is an easy place to start. I still do not get why you brought the legislation forward in the first place, because there is no reasonable argument. We have dismissed the kidnapping theory. Senator Conroy did a very good job on that last night. He has seen this kidnapping theory come up before. We have dismissed that as being an issue, because motivated kidnappers can access the information anyway and there are lots of other things that could potentially trigger kidnapping. Having these four sets of data on a register is a long bow. We have now dismissed, I think quite thoroughly, the idea that this could affect commercial in confidence for corporations in their commercial spheres, because this information is available anyway through ASIC. In fact it is a lot more comprehensive if you go to ASIC. This is a matter of setting up a simple public policy and giving the community what they ask for—and actually it is not a big ask.
I still do not feel I have an adequate explanation from the minister as to why the government brought this legislation forward in the first place. Can you explain to us here and now why it is in the public interest to shield wealthy individuals from providing transparency around their tax affairs, please?
Thank you for your question, Senator Whish-Wilson. The tax office have the information that they need to do their job, and we also think that the concept of taxpayer confidentiality is an important one. I do not know that we can really canvass in any greater detail than has happened over the many hours previous the government's rationale for that which it has done.
I just have a follow-up to that. I ask the minister to respond to that same question, as I was looking for the public good justification for shielding wealthy individuals from providing their tax affairs. The minister just responded by saying that they respected the confidentiality and they thought that was an important aspect for taxpayers. Do you accept there is also a very compelling case for transparency and disclosure being a strong disincentive for potential tax avoidance, especially around reputational risk? I will let the minister know, if he is not aware, that the evidence that the Senate committee heard on this issue was that disclosure is the first important step to take in providing disincentives to individuals and to companies to avoid tax, because they will get caught out. Senator Dastyari calls it a name and shame register. But I am not saying that these individuals and these companies are actually avoiding tax. I will say, as I said yesterday, if they have done nothing wrong, they have got nothing to hide. So what is the issue? Why not disclose? It is confidentiality on the one hand—respecting the confidentiality of wealthy individuals—and on the other hand we have a compelling argument for policy in the public interest that provides disclosure and a disincentive for tax avoidance. Can the minister please say where she feels the balance of evidence in this argument lies and where the public good component of your policy is?
The government has focused on ensuring that the Commissioner of Taxation has available to him all the powers that he needs to ensure that multinational companies pay taxes and pay the appropriate amount of tax. Senator Bushby, who I understand was part of that committee, also has indicated to me that one of the important things about preserving confidentiality—and I think the ATO also said this, although I am going on what Senator Bushby has indicated to me—is that it ensures that maximum tax is paid and provides confidence in the system. In a former life when I was at the Australian Government Solicitor, I did my fair share of acting for the Commissioner of Taxation. It is very important that the Commissioner of Taxation has available to him or her all the powers necessary to ensure that all taxpayers pay the appropriate amount of tax. I think that is a general principle, and it is a principle that applies irrespective of who the taxpayer is.
I want to just touch on a different issue. It goes to the question of the revenue to be collected by this bill. We know that the budget papers have indicated a series of asterisks in relation to the government's projections as to what revenue this bill is going to generate, and this is in contrast to the Labor approach, which is, I think, a real attempt on our part to adopt a bipartisan position on the issue of multinational corporate tax avoidance. I think you would agree, Minister, that it is unprecedented for an opposition to come forward with a series of revenue measures in advance of a budget being handed down. It was an opportunity for the government to look at what Labor had put forward, and when you examine what was put forward it was a properly costed proposition. It was a $7.2 billion package, and it went to a range of issues: changes to the arrangements for how multinational companies claim tax deductions, greater compliance work by the ATO to track down and tackle corporate tax avoidance, cracking down on multinational companies using hybrid structures to reduce tax, and improving transparency and data matching. So Labor took our approach to the PBO, and we were able to come up with some credible estimates as to what the impact of those measures would be. I know that the government has not done that work up to now.
My question is: has the government in recent times had Treasury look at this issue? Is there any more information you can provide to the Senate in terms of what impact the government's measures will have in the future? If that work has not been done, can you please explain why not?
Excuse me for a moment. I will just seek some instructions. Senator Ketter, the officers were speaking to Senator Bushby. Would you kindly just go through that again. If I understand correctly, you were asking a question about the revenue to be collected. You referred to asterisks. Could you just go through that again, if you do not mind. Thank you. Sorry about that.
Yes, I was referring to the fact that for the projected revenue for this bill being generated, if you go to the budget papers, you see asterisks in terms of what the government expects to receive in revenue as a result of the adoption of these measures. What I was putting to you was that the Labor approach was that we have come up with some measures to address the issue of multinational corporate tax avoidance, we took those measures to the Parliamentary Budget Office, and there was the ability there to provide some credible estimates as to what impact the Labor measures would have. I know that the government did not do this work prior to the budget. My question is: has the government asked Treasury recently to look at this in light of the opposition's package? We have had the capacity to put some figures—some dollars. I would like to know whether in recent times the government has done this work to look at what revenue is expected to be generated by the passage of this legislation. If the answer is, 'No, nothing's been done,' my question is: why hasn't anything further been done about it?
Thank you for the Senate's indulgence. I am advised that Treasury advice was sought in relation to the work that was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office. I am advised that it was dismissed because the measure is not quantifiable and that the work that was done failed to look at the behavioural implications that are necessary to make an appropriate assessment. The necessity for this bill is to ensure that we will be able to access data which goes to those activities. Senator Ketter, that is what I have just been advised.
Perhaps I can put it in this way: Treasury provided advice in relation to what the Labor Party put out there. So my response is that I am advised that the Treasury advice was sought on the work that was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office. My understanding is that work was dismissed because of its failure to take into account and look at behavioural implications necessary for an appropriate quantifiable estimation.
I am wondering if the minister could clarify a couple of things. There has been a lot of pejorative language used in here this morning such as about providing exemptions for 'rich' taxpayers and things like that. Is it not the case that the only exception that relates to the law that they are talking about is the exemption that was introduced by the previous Labor government and that was an exemption to the principle of taxpayer confidentiality, singling out a group of taxpayers and exposing them to a level of scrutiny that is normally protected for taxpayers? Is it not the case that the bill that was passed recently actually reversed that exception and that if there is an issue in terms of any particular class of taxpayers not paying what is considered a fair level of taxes then that is a problem with the law as it applies, given that the tax office indicated at the inquiry that they are entirely confident that they have all the information they need to ensure that the taxpayers in question are meeting their legal obligation to pay taxes and that if there is a need to change anything then that requires a change of law? The actual bill that we are here today to discuss is, in fact, making an attempt to do that.
I will be moving an amendment. It is to the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Act 2015, which passed the Senate a few weeks ago. You can talk about different amendments if you like, but at the end of the day that is what I plan to move an amendment on. And I hear there might be an amendment on an amendment. On my amendment too, that is a possibility.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Order! It being 10.15, the sitting of the committee is suspended until 11.45 to enable senators to attend Remembrance Day services.
Sitting suspended from 10 : 15 to 11 : 45
The CHAIRMAN: The committee is considering the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. There has been one agreed amendment. The question is that the bill, as amended, be agreed to.
The Greens will be moving an amendment, and I understand that there are other amendments that will come before the chamber. Before we move on, I would still like to ask the minister the question that I did not get an answer to from the previous ministers. I ask whether the minister has met with the Family Office Institute Australia, which presented to the Senate committee around the transparency bill that the Greens will be moving an amendment to and whether the minister thinks that kind of activity—that kind of astroturfing, with a front group being set up with no members and presenting to a Senate committee on behalf of who knows—is acceptable.
I put on record that we are talking about a piece of legislation that is going to implement a new multinational anti-avoidance law. What we are talking about here today is a bill, proposed by this government, that is going to put in place stronger penalties for large companies that engage in tax avoidance and profit shifting. What we are talking about today is a bill that is going to put in place additional responsibilities. But Senator Dastyari and Senator Whish-Wilson come in here and, for some reason, continue to filibuster. It is my understanding, Senator Dastyari, that you actually support this legislation—but you continue to filibuster.
Can we be realistic? In terms of the substance of the amendments that Senator Whish-Wilson has already been debating today, I understand that we, as a Senate, have already debated the substance of these amendments when we passed a previous piece of legislation, the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill 2015, only a few weeks ago. You know our position on these amendments. You know our position on the bill. Can we please stop wasting the Senate's time, because there are other pieces of legislation that need to be debated? I do not think there is any disagreement at all in relation to the intent of this bill and what we are all, I would hope, collectively seeking to ensure, and that is, of course, that multinational companies who are profiting in Australia pay tax. The government's position is very clear. The government's position on the amendments is very clear. Senator Whish-Wilson, I do not think I can help you any further in relation to this debate.
We have made it very clear, Senator Cash, that the Greens will be moving an amendment to bring back what was lost in the Senate a few weeks ago. I am sure you are aware of the debate that we have been having now for several hours. That is not about big multinational corporations, billion-dollar-plus corporations and new disclosure laws and powers to the ATO to help the commissioner with this issue. We support that issue, and we were very clear about that in our speeches in the second reading debate. We will be bringing forward an amendment to replace the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill 2015. That was defeated in the Senate a few weeks ago. I will be moving an amendment to this bill. I am not officially moving it yet, Chair, but I will be. We have all been discussing it. That is the context of my questions.
One of the things that has come to light, for your information, Senator Cash, since that piece of legislation was passed in the Senate is that an investigative journalist has discovered that one of the key witnesses who provided evidence—evidence which senators have admitted in this chamber influenced their decision on how they voted—turned out to be a front group called the Family Office Institute Australia, which was set up with no members to present to the Senate committee to support a coalition bill that effectively shielded privately owned companies from increased transparency. We are trying to get that transparency back. We think that this is a significant matter of public interest. It has been promoted to all of us, as senators, by various groups and organisations over the years, like the Tax Justice Network, as a good way of starting to help combat the problem of tax avoidance.
That is the context of the question I asked. My question was fairly simple: have you met with the Family Office Institute Australia or any of its registered members? This is the group that astroturfed the Senate, in the sense that it ran a campaign to support government removing these transparency laws. Do you believe it is acceptable that a few special interests can come together like this and essentially con the Senate and the Senate committee that this is somehow supported by a large number of individuals or businesses that do not see this legislation as being in their interests?
The answer to your question as to whether I have met with these people, is no. In relation to the actual organisation, my understanding is that what they were referring to does not necessarily have anything to do with this particular piece of legislation. In relation to people being able to present views, anybody is entitled to present a submission to this parliament, to a Senate committee, and it is for the committee to decide, whether or not, based on the rules of the Senate, they accept that particular submission.
I will briefly try to put this debate into perspective. That may be of assistance to the chamber and the 33 people listening in on News Radio right now—maybe 34, or 35 at a stretch! Senator Whish-Wilson has done a tremendous amount of work on this. The Australian Greens have not yet moved his amendment. The amendment proposes a repeal of a bill that was passed several weeks ago. I indicated at the time that, to quote Lemony Snicket, there was a series of unfortunate events where the debate was truncated. It was not a conspiracy. It just happened that I did not get to speak in time, I did not get into the chamber on time. Other colleagues were not here in time and the vote went through. It almost never happens like that, but it did happen on this occasion.
The outcome would have been the same: the bill would have gone through. The concern I have, which relates to the amendment foreshadowed by Senator Whish-Wilson, is whether there ought to be a disclosure requirement on private companies with a turnover of $100 million or more a year. I voted with the government that they should be exempt for this very reason: the reason put to me in private conversations was that in the food and grocery sector, where you effectively have a duopoly of Coles and Woolworths controlling something like 75 per cent of the $100-plus billion grocery market in this country, companies with turnover of $3 million or $4 million a year—that is their revenue but their profit margins will obviously be much, much lower than that; they might be making only $3 million, $4 million, $5 million or maybe $10 million a year—would be put at a competitive disadvantage in negotiations with Coles and Woolworths if they had to disclose that information.
I thought there was something in that argument. I gave an undertaking early on to the government to support them—perhaps I gave that undertaking too early—and some of the people who have put their concerns to me in respect of this. I think there was some merit to that argument. But there was absolutely no merit to the 'kidnap' argument given by the government. Frankly, it was ridiculous to suggest that these people would be at risk of being kidnapped by giving this information. That information is effectively the revenue, the taxable income and the tax paid by a company in an easy to access format. The idea that they would somehow become a kidnap risk is, frankly, ridiculous. And the proof is in the pudding: there was no advice given by the Australian Federal Police or any other law enforcement agency in relation to this. The kidnap argument was farcical, nonsensical; it had no credibility.
But I thought there was something in the argument about the $100 million turnover—that if you are a food processor releasing this information may somehow make you more vulnerable and compromise your negotiations with someone 'up the food chain' who has greater economic power. To put that in perspective, what we are talking about is information that can be obtained. I did my bit—and I hope the minister is pleased to hear this—to reduce the government deficit by $38 this morning when I charged to my Visa credit card $38, payable to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, to get a copy of the financial statements and reports of Teys Australia Pty Ltd. Now, I am not picking on them. They are a great Australian company involved in meat processing and abattoirs. They are a large Australian company and a family owned business. And they were good enough in the course of this debate to set out their objections. They did not do it behind an astroturfed front group—and the astroturf was not even green on this group; it was pretty parched. If there was ever a drought look astroturf, this is what the Family Office Institute Australia, or FOIA, is—and maybe their acronym should be 'PHOOEY!', because what they provided to us was barely adequate. I thought they represented many, many private businesses—but they had no members!
You can spend $38 at ASIC to get this information. Let's put this in context. There is a reporting requirement. If you are a business that has revenue of more than $25 million a year—not $100 million a year but $25 million a year—you are required to provide financial statements and reports to ASIC. So there is already an even lower threshold that applies. Looking at my copy of the Teys Australia Pty Ltd financial statement report, which I obtained for $38 this morning, it includes at page 5 a statement of profit or loss and other comprehensive income. Their profit and loss statement sets it all out. At page 6 is a statement of their financial position as at 30 June 2014 and their current tax liability. I do not need to read out the amount but it sets it out in black and white. Further along, at page 24, there are all sorts of assumptions and details in relation to their tax, their revenue and the like—very comprehensive information. Page 24 sets out their income and the income tax that is paid and payable.
The information is already there. So I do feel somewhat misled by the argument that was put up for this bill in the first place. But I will still buy that part of the argument that having this information easily and readily available may in some circumstances compromise the negotiations of these companies—although presumably, given what is available for ASIC for $38, you get a hell of a lot more information in relation to this. So I wonder whether this amendment is not so much a storm in a teacup—it would be unfair to characterise it that way—but about trying to make it easier for information to be provided publicly about these companies. We can still get that information because of the ASIC requirement that any company with $25 million or more in revenue needs to provide some pretty comprehensive financial statements.
The reservation I have in relation to Senator Whish-Wilson's proposed amendment, which has not yet been moved, is there may be, in some circumstances, an issue of potentially prejudicing that company in negotiations. It is not a strong argument, but I can see the argument in certain circumstances. In order to keep faith with those companies that I think had a genuine concern about this,—although, I now wonder whether their concerns were misplaced—if there were an amendment along the lines of a company being able to say to the tax commissioner, 'We don't think you should release this because it could significantly prejudice our commercial negotiations,' that is the path that I would like to go down. I want to keep faith with the government on the intent of the bill, in terms of private companies, but I think their arguments have been quite weak. Some of them have been farcical in terms of kidnapping.
I think there is a way through this in order to deal with this. But, again, I emphasise to the 34 people listening on NewsRadio, what we are arguing about is the access of this information. If you want detailed information, you can get it anyway through ASIC for $38. It just means that the information is easier to get, even though it is at a much lower level—three lines of information in terms of taxable income and actual tax paid, or revenue and the taxable amount and the amount of tax paid. So that is pretty minimalist, but I think that there might be some circumstances where companies may want the assurance that the information is not publicly released so easily. Although, if you really want to dig around for it, you can get it through ASIC for $38. I am not sure if there will be further amendments moved in relation to this. I would like to think that there is a compromise possible in respect of this.
a different frontbencher, from whom I am still waiting to get a reply. So I take issue with your criticism that this is a filibuster. The filibuster is from your side, Senator Cash. I do not know how many frontbenchers who have had carriage of this piece of legislation.
I would like one who knew something about it, and then who could pass the information back as requested. Then we could get on to the substantive amendments. The issue raised by Senator Xenophon I raised as well. The answer given by Senator Fifield said that the reason that they can reduce from 1,000 to 200—in other words, only publicly listed companies—was effectively what Senator Xenophon had said, absent the kidnapping. He did not throw the kidnapping one in; I would not have taken much stock of that issue. The answer given was that the exposure of their financial records in the public domain could allow competitors to gain an advantage by being able to trawl through their profit and loss statements, or whatever might be available. Senator Xenophon, much better than I, encapsulated the argument that most of this information—if not more if it, as it would be available through payment of $38 on the ASIC register—could be obtained in any event. An astute company wanting to assess and look at another company would also, similarly, be able to examine ASIC—as I am sure they would—to establish the financial position of that particular company.
This is the first time I have heard this. I am minded to the position where, just as in the share market world of public listed companies, if there is an issue such as an offer or a takeover in the wind, they generally report and suspend trading. It is the same concept—I think Senator Xenophon is looking for a compromise—where, logically, if there were a concern by a particular company that they were ripe for a buyout, a sell-out, a takeover, or whatever it might be, or if they were going to be troubled in the market by a competitor, then they might be able to make a prima facie case for the removal of their name from the register during that period or for a period of time. It would be a logical thing to do. I did not follow the argument put forward by Senator Fifield at the time that it is simply a case of, 'You don't need the register with all of those people on it because of this issue.' The truth is that you can deal with the issue in a more substantive way and still have an appropriate threshold. You do not need an unbelievable threshold, which really only lists into a very small number of companies. What you want to achieve in any legislation that you are bringing forward is a wide and fair application of it so that you do fairly capture all of those companies that you are required to. I am still waiting for the response to that. I am sure I will obtain it now.
Before we get into the substantive amendments, the second issue I wish to raise to get a response for is: in the 2015-16 budget relating to multinational tax avoidance, I want some assurance about the package going forward as to the time line or how it will be rolled out. Other elements in the 2015-16 budget related to the developing of a public tax transparency code to complement country-by-country reporting, which is being developed by the Board of Taxation. What is the time line on that? Will that be a draft? Will it be publicly released? Is there a release date available for that? Also, the same goes for the implementation of treaty abuse rules developed by the OECD and which aim to address the exploitation of tax treaty rules by multinationals to avoid taxation. Will there be a draft? What consultation will be undertaken to give that effect, and is there a time line for that?
Thirdly, I refer to the antihybrid rules developed by the OECD to address the issues of multinationals claiming a tax deduction in one country but not paying tax in another because of different tax rules. Will those antihybrid rules be open for draft consultation? Although they are called rules, will they be regulations which are disallowable and come here, or will they effectively be guidelines or rules used by the tax department? If they are the latter, will they be promulgated or open or draft and able to have some input into them from the various institutes that have an interest in how they would operate, and what is the time line for the implementation of those rules?
Fourthly, in regard to exchanging information with other countries about harmful tax practice and preferential tax deals, the same applies there. Will they be either regulations or rules? Rules obviously would not come here. If they are regulations, will they be disallowable? Following on from that, is there a draft or a consultative process that will surround the development of those practices, and what is the time line that might be associated with that?
Fifthly and lastly, there is the issue of a GST on digital products and services imported by Australian consumers. This would help level the playing field between domestic and international suppliers and ensure that all suppliers pay a fair share of tax. The same goes for that particular one, and it comes from the 2015-16 budget relating to multinational tax avoidance. With a GST on digital products, how would you determine whether or not a GST should be applied to a particular product and, if so, on what basis? What is the broad definition that you are going to use in respect of digital products and services? If a like service is already GST-free, will there be a determination that that particular service would then be subject to a new GST? Will there be a consultative process surrounding the definition of digital products and services and what is the time line for the implementation of that?
It is a good measure which I support. What I would like to ensure is that, in bringing about the level playing field between domestic and international suppliers, all suppliers do pay their fair share of tax. But, ultimately, I would like to ensure that it is brought in in such a way that it does not disadvantage Australian consumers and it does not create red tape for businesses in Australia—and thereby create not a level playing field, in fact, because you have effectively brought in a compliance regime or red tape that surrounds the implementation.
The broader issue for individuals is that, in doing all of this, there is some view expressed or at least considered that you are then not implementing a raft of red tape for business that they would then have to comply with, particularly given that this government continually trumpets the view that it is a remover of red tape. I would not like to see business suffer significant red tape around the implementation of those measures. I suspect that that will be hard to achieve because much of the implementation will require some regulatory burden and some guidelines, rules and legislation. But, ultimately, in considering all of that, do it in such a way as to be mindful of the minimisation of red tape on business.
I do take issue with your accusation that it is a filibuster. You have got a couple of minutes. I really do want answers to these questions. This is the opportunity for senators to ask questions about the legislation, and that is exactly what I am doing.
I have a couple of concerns about this whole bill. The first concern is that it so obviously erodes public confidence because it makes our tax system not as transparent. The biggest concern that I have—and we heard from Senator Xenophon earlier in regard to this and from Senator Ludwig—is this concept of kidnapping, this concept that if big businesses have to report then there is the chance that they or their families might be kidnapped. I do not want to make light of this at all, because kidnapping is obviously a very serious issue. But when the ATO gave evidence during the inquiry that one in five private companies earning over $100 million do not pay any tax and the government is supporting that—that seems to be the whole emphasis behind this bill—then I think that the people of Australia have the right to understand that it is just a furphy. It is just a ridiculous argument. When asked about that particular area of concern, the AFP, the ATO and the Attorney-General's Department could not give any evidence about that happening. So my first question is: where did that evidence come from? If you are going to use the argument of kidnapping, where is the official evidence? Where did that come from?
When people are kidnapped, most of the time there would be a ransom involved and, to me, the only people being held to ransom here are the low and middle income earners of Australia, who pay their fair share of tax. But if you are in one of these companies earning $100 million then the government will find any excuse for you not to have to pay your fair share of tax. It is absurd and it is absolutely logical. There is a complete lack of evidence behind the absolutely clumsy defence of this bill. We know there are few supporters of it. So my question to the minister is: where is the evidence of that? Who actually gave evidence? How did you get that evidence? You cannot just stand up and say that. And also: how do you respond to these comments in general that are being given by other senators?
Just before I sit down, in regard to the 'filibustering' comment: what an absurd comment to make. You come in here, you put up these proposals and you give us the most illogical arguments to defend them. As Senator Ludwig said, he is still waiting for an answer to his question. I have been sitting here through this debate, and I have not heard any logical or believable answer about the kidnapping concept. I really seriously would like to know: where did that evidence come from?
It is absolutely weird, Senator Ludwig—and not just weird, but absolutely bizarre, and quite an insult to the intelligence of low and middle income Australians who, as I said, are paying their fair share of tax and expect that big businesses should too.
I have to say, Senator Ludwig, yours—I will pay you a compliment—was an exceptionally eloquent filibuster. Senator Bilyk, unfortunately, I cannot say the same to you, but I will pick up one comment that you made—albeit that I am almost indulging your filibuster, and I disappoint those listening to this debate by doing so. Senator Bilyk, in your opening statement, you said that this bill currently before the Senate 'erodes public confidence'. I think that I and the hardworking citizens of Australia are going to disagree with you on that point. Let me tell you why. The bill—for the benefit of those who are listening in on broadcast—that is currently before the Senate is the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. I would have thought—and I think the Australian people, quite genuinely, themselves would have thought—that, when a government brings in a law that is all about combating multinational tax avoidance, which is all about ensuring that multinationals that have activity in Australia pay tax in Australia, that would be a good thing. I would have thought that, but, clearly, I am wrong, because Senator Bilyk, as I said, has clearly stated, on the Hansard, that this is a bill that erodes public confidence.
Let me also tell you a little bit more about the bill, because, again, I do not believe that this is a bill that erodes public confidence. In fact, I believe—as does the government and as do, I would say, the Australian people—that this is a bill that is going to ensure that Australians can continue to have confidence in our taxation system.
What do we know? As a government, we know that some multinationals are artificially structuring to avoid Australian tax by booking revenue from Australian sales offshore. What that means is that they have an unfair advantage over our local businesses and over families and small businesses, who have to shoulder more of the tax burden. What does that then do? It undermines the public confidence in our taxation system.
What does this bill therefore do? The Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill, if it is passed—and I would hope that this is a bill that is going to pass this place—will allow the Commissioner of Taxation to treat these large multinationals as though they have a taxable presence in Australia. What that will do is to ensure that they are subject to Australian tax. So, despite what we have heard, in, as I said, the very eloquent filibuster by Senator Ludwig, this is a good piece of legislation and it should have the support of the parliament.
As to the amendment that I understand will be moved by the Australian Greens and to which Senator Ludwig has been referring: Senator Ludwig, my instructions are that you have already asked this question a number of times—and that is fine; as you rightly say, you are entitled to do that. But you have already been provided by relevant ministers with an answer to your question. I am happy, though, to again provide you with the information in relation to your question.
I am instructed that, on 15 October—and that is why, apparently, this amendment is going to be moved—parliament passed a bill to amend the legislation that directs the Commissioner of Taxation to publish confidential tax information of Australian-controlled private companies. The government introduced the amendment because publication of the taxation information of these companies would have effectively disclosed the owners' financial affairs and posed a risk to their position in the market by making key economic information available to their competitors and to their suppliers. And, Senator Ludwig, it is important to note that the amendment has no impact on the comprehensive powers of the Commissioner of Taxation to require companies to produce any information that is relevant to making an assessment of their tax liability. The public disclosure of tax information law will continue to apply to multinational enterprises operating in Australia and to Australian public companies.
The government has made it exceptionally clear that every company and indeed every taxpayer must pay the right amount of tax. To that end, we have tightened the thin capitalisation laws applicable to the amount of interest that may be deducted, and we have introduced new legislation to tackle tax avoidance by large multinational groups.
Senators Whish-Wilson and Ludwig do make relevant points. If you are so concerned about this information—and I understand this has been said several times now in this chamber, and I believe Senator Xenophon also may have made the point—apparently you can purchase it from ASIC for $38. So, there you go.
Senator Ludwig, you also asked some questions about when these laws would commence et cetera. My understanding is that the Commissioner of Taxation is currently working with approximately 80 companies. The Commissioner of Taxation is waiting for this legislation to pass, so indeed that particular person is then equipped with these powers and can set about implementing the law. In answer to your question, the sooner we can pass this legislation and the sooner we can get it through executive council, the sooner the Commissioner of Taxation will be able to undertake what we believe is an important part of ensuring that there remains integrity within the Australian taxation system.
In the budget this year the government was looking at bringing in a voluntary corporate disclosure code. You may remember, Senator Cash, that the previous Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey, said:
The voluntary code will highlight companies that are paying their fair share of tax. It will also discourage companies from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance.
… … …
The Board of Taxation will provide a business and broader community perspective to the development of a voluntary corporate disclosure code.
The Government would like more companies, particularly large multinationals operating in Australia, to publicly disclose their tax affairs. In developing the code they will need to consider what information is disclosed and how it is disclosed.
This was said in May this year. The point being that the government was looking at a voluntary code.
You are bringing in a mandatory code for multinationals over $1 billion. When the Treasurer said 'the government would like more companies, particularly large multinationals,' why did you make the cut-off $1 billion, and what is wrong with applying standards of disclosure to companies of $100 million, because that is what we are trying to do in the Greens amendment. We are trying to provide a mandatory code for Australian and offshore companies over $100 million, and you have brought in a mandatory code for $1 billion. So, my questions are as follows. What is wrong with doing it for $100 million versus $1 billion? How did you determine that cut-off? Clearly you believe disclosure is important, otherwise you would not have made these comments. Also, what is the public good argument for not supporting disclosure for companies over $100 million.
I believe this question has been put in a number of ways, both in debate on the previous legislation and on this legislation, and I do not believe that I can add anything further to the answers that have already been given by several ministers in relation to this point, which keeps being reiterated—and that if fine as we are all entitled to do that. But I do not think I have anything further that I can add that is going to satisfy you. But, please feel free. We have until 12:45 to ask the question in another way. You will, however, quite possibly get the same answer, because the government's position does not change.
I would like to highlight to you that my question is actually new. This is not something that has been discussed at all since we started this last night. Let me put it to you a different way. Why did the government bring in a mandatory code when you had been working on a voluntary code? Was it that you realised a voluntary code was not going to work? If you could answer those questions I would appreciate it. Then I can ask you more questions about why you chose $1 billion for a mandatory code.
With all due respect, I think we have determined that the information ASIC already requires these companies to lodge is significantly more detailed and comprehensive than what we are asking for. For your information, as you were not in the chamber a little bit earlier—as Senators Bilyk and Ludwig pointed out—in the Greens amendment with which we are seeking to bring back the better disclosure requirements, we are asking for four things: an ABN and name; total income for the year; total taxable income, or net income; and, income tax payable. This is only a fraction of what is on ASIC. So, in relation to your answer to me about this being about red tape, I fail to see how there can be any red tape involved with just asking for four simple things on a register, considering that the information is already available. The Senate looked at this when the bill was first introduced, and there was very little cost involved in bringing this in. This was looked at in 2013 by the Labor government and by various committees. We are not talking about a significant amount of red tape here. Could you please address that question?
Again, you are going exactly to the point that has been canvassed time and time again by various senators in this debate. It has already been answered by several government ministers. I have already answered the question in relation to responding to Senator Ludwig. He raised this point and, again, I do not have anything further that I can add.
Minister, thank you for your not so complimentary comments about my questions! Even so, I think that they are very legitimate questions. The question was: where did the evidence come from? The argument was used by your side, so surely you can validate where the evidence came from that people could have a higher chance of being kidnapped if they were one of these businesses. Where does that evidence come from? In the inquiry the AFP, the ATO and the Attorney-General's Department could offer up no evidence, so you cannot come in here and make statements that are very dramatic—lots of amateur dramatics go on on that side—if you cannot back them up. I want to know: where did the evidence come from?
We see on that side, so often, that you can talk the talk but you do not walk the walk. We see it in every question time. There are people on your side who have to constantly prove which drama school they went to by their amateur dramatics. With all the puffing up of your chests and all the claims that it is a crackdown on multinational companies, just because it says it in the title of the bill does not mean that is what is happening. In this case, it is not happening. So where did the evidence come from in regard to kidnapping?
I would remind Senator Bilyk that Labor is supporting this bill. Do not get too excited in your arguments against it. As has been stated several times in this debate—and perhaps if those on the other side had a little more experience in the real world of business they would understand—the government introduced the amendment that we are all referring to because publication of the taxation information of these particular companies would have, effectively, disclosed the owners' financial affairs and posed a risk to their position in the market by making key economic information available to their competitors and their suppliers.
I rise on a point of order, Temporary Chairman. The minister is not answering the question that is pretty simple. I have asked it a couple of times. Where did the evidence come from? Is there any evidence? Let me make it easy for the minister: is there any evidence?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Bilyk, there is no point of order.
For the benefit of those in the gallery who have to endure this, and for those listening to broadcast, the good news is that I think there is only 12½ minutes left before we go to senators' statements. This has been canvassed time and time again. My understanding is that the Senate has already debated the substance of this amendment.
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
You are misleading the chamber, Senator.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Bilyk and Senator Dastyari, the minister has the call. I have already said that there is no point of order. The minister is answering your question.
I did not call a point of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: You are saying exactly the same thing as you did with your point of order. The minister is answering your question. Let her be heard.
Again, as I said, the government introduced the amendment because publication of the taxation information of these companies would have, effectively, disclosed the owners' financial affairs and posed a risk to their position in the market by making key economic information available to their competitors and suppliers. Because it appears that we are going to be going through until 12.45 pm, if I could perhaps take a few minutes, for the benefit of those in the gallery, and for the benefit of those listening to this debate on broadcast, to explain what we are, in fact, debating. We are debating multinational anti-avoidance law. This is all about ensuring that in Australia we have some of the strongest integrity rules in the world. That is something that, as Australians, we should be very proud of.
When we ascertain that there are multinationals who are artificially structuring to avoid tax being paid in Australia by booking revenue offshore from Australian sales, as a government we should do something about that. Why? Because, obviously, these companies have an unfair advantage over local businesses, over families and over small businesses, who end up shouldering the greater tax burden. What this ultimately does is to undermine confidence within the Australian taxation system. Again, it might surprise those listening and those in the gallery that the opposition do support this bill. You would not yet think that by the manner in which they are behaving, but they do support this bill. Before the end of today and perhaps before we go to senators' statements, given that this is a bill that is going to ensure that multinationals engaging in deliberate tax avoidance have to pay tax in Australia, I would hope that this bill does pass the Senate.
I want to ask the minister another direct question, and this is a very genuine question. I am not filibustering at all. It is a very genuine question. When we looked at the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill it exempted Australian companies from a set of disclosure laws, but it kept—as the minister is aware—offshore companies under the same disclosure laws that were passed in 2013. Let me read this to you from the Parliamentary Library:
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth) (TAA 1953) to provide an additional threshold before the Commissioner of Taxation is obliged to publish information about a corporate tax entity with a total income equal to or exceeding $100 million for an income year. The additional threshold to be met must be one of three alternatives:
• the entity is not an Australian resident that is a private company or
• the entity is a member of a wholly-owned group that has a foreign resident ultimate holding company or
• the percentage of foreign shareholding in the entity is greater than 50 per cent.
So we, in this country, have a law at the moment that demands foreign companies with subsidiaries in Australia meet these disclosure requirements if they are worth over $100 million. My question is quite simple. Why did we exempt Australian companies? What was the logic behind cutting out Australian companies and individuals with a net worth of more than $100 million? Why do we keep it on offshore companies and exempt Australian companies?
I appreciate you stating, Senator Whish-Wilson, that this is a genuine question—I obviously would hope that all questions in this place are genuine questions—but I am sure that you participated in the debate regarding the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill. Again, the substance of what you are going to was debated at that time. Several ministers have indeed answered the question and it continues to be the same answer. I have nothing further to add to the position that the government has adopted.
Perhaps I can have a crack at answering the question that you refuse to answer, Minister. The answer to the question, I think—and I am happy for you to correct the record—is that a group of very influential and wealthy people in this country lobbied the Liberal Party to have Australian corporations and individuals exempt from these laws. How is it that, six days after a Senate inquiry is announced into these laws, a front group gets it up in this country to help shield wealthy individuals and companies over $100 million from disclosing their laws—laws we have kept in place for foreign companies, but we have now exempted Australian companies. I think you have been lobbied quite hard—who knows, potentially by some of your donors—and that you have changed this law to suit them. I can see no public good reason why you would exempt Australian companies from these laws and keep the same laws for foreign corporations. We have heard no reason as to why this is in the public good.
Perhaps you do not need to hear it from me as to why this particular piece of legislation is in the public good, because I think anybody who read this legislation in relation to combating multinational tax avoidance would understand that it is within the public good. In fact, Senator Sam Dastyari summed it up himself in his speech in the second reading debate on Monday, 9 November. He said:
The former Treasurer should be congratulated for saying and doing many good things in this policy area.
He then said:
This is a bill that fundamentally addresses many important concerns around multinational tax avoidance.
… … …
the Labor Party—
have been calling for more action on multinational tax for over two years. It is good to see that the government has actually come on board—
and, if you want to take a little bit of credit for the legislation, Senator Dastyari, that is fine—
with this legislation.
If you do not want to believe from me, Senator Whish-Wilson, that this is a piece of legislation that is in the public good, please take it from your former coalition partners in the Australian Labor Party, the now opposition, from Senator Dastyari himself, that this is a good piece of legislation. He indeed compliments the former Treasurer for the work he has done in this area. Again, I would thank the Labor Party for the fact that they will be, despite the filibustering—
It is a good bill, thank you, Senator Dastyari—supporting this legislation and therefore I believe it is in the public good. I would say that anything that ensures that multinational companies who are avoiding tax pay their tax in Australia is within the public good.
You have forced me to rise again. There are three matters. One is that it is appropriate in the Senate committee stage for the minister to be responsive to the questions. You have not been responsive to the questions I have asked. It does not mean it is a filibuster. By alleging there is a filibuster, you cannot—
The point of order is on relevance regarding the contributions that have been made by the Greens political party. It is on relevance. The legislation—
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Edwards, there is no point of order.
in which Senator Whish-Wilson is debating has passed.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Edwards, there is no point of order. Please be seated.
It is not relevant, Chair.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Ludwig, you have the call.
I do not wish to digress from your ruling, but Senator Ludwig insisted upon responding to a point of order that you already ruled is not a point of order, so you should draw him back to the question because he is out of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Senator Bernardi. I was in the process of doing so before you kindly assisted. Senator Ludwig, you have the call.
I did not want to be disorderly in that respect, so thank you, Senator Bernardi. What I wanted to come back to were the three issues that I spoke to. I was seeking a legitimate answer to the questions that I raised. You answered the first one. Although I disagree with it, I am not going to continue to reiterate that question. It is an answer and it at least meets the courtesy that it was asked in. The second part of the series of questions I asked relates effectively to the BEPS 15 implementation. BEPS 15 is due to be put forward at the OECD in the next short while. The questions came out of 2015-16 budget. They have not been implemented yet, including the time frames for that. I could do it in a shorthand way and simply ask for the decision around how and when you are going to implement BEPS 15 post the OECD implementation. That is the short question to the issue I went to. I am happy for your advisors to go back and look at the transcript of the questions I asked and provide an answer to them at a later stage in the debate. I do not need them right now and I do not expect that you would have those readily at your fingertips.