Thursday, 3 December 2015
Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015; In Committee
The committee is considering message No. 494 from the House of Representatives relating to the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. The question is that the Senate does not insist on amendment (1) to which the House has disagreed.
As we know, yesterday marked the six-year anniversary of the Greens joining with the Liberals to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Today will go down in history as another remarkable day when the Greens again have joined with the Liberals to help Australia's richest companies keep their tax dealings secret—selling out on ordinary Australian taxpayers in the process. Not only have the Greens sold out on themselves; they have sold out on everyday Australian taxpayers. Let us be clear about that. This goes beyond their own base but goes to everyday Australian taxpayers. I think that is completely immoral.
The other thing that I think would sit very uncomfortably with the Greens is what their former leader, Christine Milne, would think of this dirty deal that they have done with the Liberals. It was Christine Milne who helped initiate the multinational tax inquiry to start with—and I give her credit for that. The former Greens leader, Christine Milne, certainly has more respect and integrity when it comes to issues of multinational tax avoidance than any Green in this place today, because all of them are selling out on that legacy that she leaves behind—a legacy where she knew that it was not fair and it was not right that hundreds and hundreds of Australian multinational companies were getting away with not paying their fair share of tax.
Let us go specifically to what this deal means for Australians. It means that, in effect, where there was going to be a threshold of $100 million where transparency laws would apply to about 900 private firms, now the Greens, siding with the government, will exempt two-thirds of those companies.
More lies. Shame.
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Singh, resume your seat. Senator Whish-Wilson, you need to withdraw those comments.
The CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. It is bad enough when there are loud interjections across the chamber, but when senators are in close proximity on the same side I think loud interjections are unfair to the speaker. I ask all senators to keep that in mind.
Two weeks ago the Senate sought to restore the previous tax transparency laws. Labor, the Greens and a number of Independent senators demanded that the government bring the tax transparency threshold back to $100 million for all companies so as not to increase the complexity in the system and to ensure that the private and public companies were treated alike. Now, as a result of an enormous backflip, as a result of the enormity of what occurred yesterday, some six years after the Greens joined the Liberals to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, two out of three of the private companies that would have been caught in the tax transparency net will be taken out—thanks to the deal that the Greens have done with the government.
The decision of the Leader of the Greens, Richard Di Natale, is I think a repudiation of the hard work that his own senators had done in the weeks and months prior to protect the tax transparency laws and to ensure big companies were held accountable. This decision flies in the face of their own Greens senators and what they agreed to.
The Australian community and the Greens' own members will be rightly outraged at the new leader's capitulation in the face of pressure from the government. Perhaps it is appropriate that we reflect on the fact that, as I said, yesterday marked that six-year anniversary of the CPRS. In some attempt to become more mainstream the Greens are perpetuating a tax system that Australians see as unfair and which the Greens saw as unfair only two weeks ago. Now, all of a sudden, it is okay because the Greens want to move into this mainstream space—and, looking for relevance in that process, they have decided on some incredibly poor policy outcomes.
As we are all aware, the ATO gave evidence that one in five Australian private companies earning over $100 million paid no tax at all last year. But it is okay for hardworking Australian taxpayers to pay their fair share of tax. They cannot hide the amount of tax that they are supposed to pay. They are hardworking Australians and they pay all their tax, as they should and as we expect all people and companies in this country to do. We do not expect companies to hide their tax. If there is a loophole in the law, let's fix it, let's expose it, let's recognise the lack of transparency and do something about. That is what we did in this place a couple of weeks ago with the support of the Greens and the Independents. What they have done today flies in the face of that commitment that they gave to Australian taxpayers two weeks ago. It is sheer hypocrisy—absolute hypocrisy—when they know that this is not what they believed in only two weeks ago.
This goes to the heart of what the Greens' values are. This goes to the heart of what the Greens stand for and what they believe in. What do they believe in? Who would know? Two weeks ago they believed in transparency for multinational companies; today they do not. Today, the Greens are quite happy to sell out all the Australian taxpayers in this country. Why? Because they want to become 'more mainstream' and more relevant—arising from a fear of becoming irrelevant—or some other bizarre notion that they have concocted. As I have said, I am sure a number of Greens members today are saying, 'Bring back Christine Milne, because she stood for something.' She stood for proper Green values that they at one point held dear.
Now, we do not know what those values are because, let's face it, they have decided, 'Better to shore ourselves up with the Liberals; perhaps one day we'll get in government with them and then we will be really relevant.' Do you know what you will be relevant for? Nothing; because you will stand for nothing. As long as you come in here and backflip all over the place and sell out Australian taxpayers, as you have, no-one will vote for you. No-one will care anymore about who you are, because you do not stand for anything. We on this side of the chamber do stand for something. We stand for fairness for Australian taxpayers and we want to see those multinational companies pay their fair share of tax. They have gotten away with paying nothing—absolutely nothing. That is a disgrace, and it flies in the face of all of those hardworking Australians who day in and day out work hard and pay their fair share of tax.
I say to the Greens that it is not too late; you can actually change your mind again. Do a courageous backflip for once. Do a backflip that actually means something. Go back to your original position—a position which stood for something; a position of integrity—which meant that there would be transparency in our laws for these companies who, for too long, have gotten away with not paying their fair share of tax. If the Greens had not wilted—as I think my colleague Dr Andrew Leigh and our shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen said—like week-old kale, the government would have had no choice but to pass this bill with the transparency amendments included. This would have been the best outcome for the Australian community and for tax fairness—'fairness'; a word which is no longer part of the Greens party after today. Instead, the Greens have delivered the government the votes that they need to gut tax transparency.
Let's just go to the heart of what that means. That means the Greens are protecting the Liberal Party's donors for the next election. All of those big companies—we know them; Philip Morris et cetera—that donate to the Liberal Party are safe and sound thanks to the Greens. So not only are the Greens delivering no tax transparency; they are delivering the government an election outcome. They are ensuring that the government's pot is full for the next election. We know that it is probably less than a year away, so I am sure that they are doing the numbers already. They are ensuring that the Liberals have the money they need from those companies. That is a disgrace. I am sure that is not what those Australians who voted for the Greens thought that they were getting. They would not have thought that that is what they were going to get from the Greens party in this country. After today, I would be very interested to see how the Greens progress in whatever it is that they are going to go forward with in this place, What we have seen today has been absolutely shameful. It has been a disgrace. It has been a sell-out and it flies in the face of anything that I thought the Greens perhaps did stand for. I thought that, at some point in time, they did stand for fairness. But they certainly do not seem to be standing for fairness anymore.
At the heart of all of this what we have wanted to talk about is the need for more transparency and not less, so that we can hold to account those companies that are not paying their fair share of tax. I thought that we had got there, and I thought that this Christmas we would be facing a situation where we had righted a wrong in our laws in relation to companies that were avoiding their fair share of tax. But, after today, if the Greens go ahead and join with the government in voting down what they supported with us only two weeks ago, all has been lost. That would be an incredible shame for democracy in this country and a shame for all of those hardworking Australians who, day in and day out, fight hard to ensure that we have fair and decent outcomes in this country. That is what I thought we were doing in this place—but not so much after today. As we know, that $200 million threshold will mean that fewer than 300 companies in Australia will be covered by this new law. That is an incredible drop from the 900 private firms that this law was going to cover. I think it is an absolute shame, and I ask the Greens to reconsider their position—and save some credibility in the process—so that this country can have fair and decent transparency and companies will pay their fair share of tax.
You are on your feet again, Senator Conroy. You are supposed to take a point of order when you are on your feet. It was good that Senator Singh made a contribution. We had numerous contributions from Labor senators this morning prior to business changing. I see Senator Urquhart is ready to make a contribution as well, which is good because she was on the speaking list when the kidnap amendment went down but she did not get a chance to speak. Senator Singh did not speak on the kidnap amendment. I went back and checked which Labor Party senators spoke on it. Senator Dastyari spoke on it—so he is off the hook—and Senator McAllister spoke on it. Apart from that the Labor Party put up three speakers. So when the kidnap amendment came to parliament, before the speaking list collapsed—
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
I am going to need a Strepsil very soon, Senator Dastyari.
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Dastyari, you need to withdraw those remarks.
Through you chair, I think you are going to need a Strepsil too, Senator Conroy. I think we all are because we are going to have a very healthy debate about this. Let me get back to the kidnap amendment bill. If there is any finger pointing in here as to why we are dealing with this legislation today it is because of the kidnap amendment bill. Labor put up—apart from Senator Dastyari who was introducing the bill—three speakers for the whole bill. Two of them got to speak before the bill collapsed—
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
I think I have definitely hit a raw nerve here, Senator Dastyari.
The CHAIRMAN: I can advise senators that we are actually in the committee stage, so if senators want to contribute to the debate there is no limitation on their ability to contribute but you should do it one at a time.
I have visited the original senate chamber in the old city of Rome and sat on the marble chairs, and this is what I imagine it must have been like with the original senators having a very robust debate, but I digress. Let me get back to the issue here of the kidnap amendment bill which went down in this place. As I mentioned earlier today—and I did say it very loudly in case you did not listen—I was sitting in the chair at the time and not only did the speaking list collapse and Labor not put up any speakers—that is how strongly they thought about tax transparency—
Opposition senators interjecting—
We had two speakers on the list before it collapsed so that is not fair. We had two speakers on the list. Senator Di Natale and I were due to speak before the list collapsed but Labor had put up two whole speakers. We have had about 50 in here today already. It is a shame we did not see that passion defending their original legislation when it was before the Senate. That is a question for the Labor Party. Maybe they decided that the politics were not really in their favour at that stage, whereas now they can see some gain out of it. So outraged were they that their original Bradbury legislation was going to go down that they put up two speakers and then they let the list collapse. When I was in the chair and the division was called, I cannot even say it went to the voices because there were no voices from the Labor Party, so that is why the Greens moved an amendment to bring the tax transparency issue back—
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
Senator Dastyari, we are dealing with the original amendment—the original legislation—which you let go. Now you are trying to scramble to look like you actually care about tax transparency—
I ask the senator to withdraw that. I am not a con man.
The CHAIRMAN: Again, I remind senators that they do have numerous opportunities to contribute to the debate but now is not the time. When Senator Whish-Wilson concludes his remarks, that is the time.
Let us talk about respect. Let us talk about respect and integrity. The Labor Party sent an email around today to their supporters, and I have read it as have other people in the Greens. We are sending it to ABC to have it fact checked at the moment because we want someone impartial to look at this—
Senator Conroy interjecting—
Let me tell you, Senator Conroy, if you want to talk about respect and integrity the list of talking points that you have given speakers is also quite outrageous. It is totally misleading and lacks any factual basis. The Labor Party are saying that this legislation today lets the biggest multinationals—the biggest corporations—off the hook. It could not be further from the truth. We have put in place an outcome that companies over $200 million have to disclose their tax, so how that can be letting the biggest multinationals and the biggest corporations off the hook beats me, but let's let a third party decide.
Also, we have introduced a general purpose accounting standard which makes the biggest multinational corporations—under the definition in the original legislation that the Liberal Party have brought here—accountable with significant information. Once again, how that can be letting the biggest multinationals off the hook beats me. It is absolute BS. That is what it is. It is a lie and it has presumably gone out to thousands of Australians—
Senator Conroy interjecting—
I have been answering the phone calls, Senator Conroy, as have my fellow senators. We have been speaking to the callers as they have been coming in and letting them know—as triggered by the ALP—what the facts are and sending them more information. It is giving us an opportunity to put our side of the story straight and I think things are going pretty well in that respect. We have set the record straight, as we will continue to do so.
I will get back to the fact that the Greens would like to see some substantive debate in here on the legislation in front of us. We would like the Labor Party to explain why they are not going to support the introduction of general purpose accounting and why that is not important, especially in light of the key evidence the Senate inquiry has heard—the economics committee—about the loopholes that are used around special purpose accounting and the types of companies that have been getting away with blue murder. We would like the Labor Party to explain why they are not going to support that. We would like the Labor Party to explain why they are not going to support making 300 companies over $200 million declare their tax position.
The other thing that is totally misleading and deceptive in that email that has been going out from the Labor Party is that they are saying that we are letting 600 companies off the hook. Guess what? None of them are disclosing their tax now because you did not field a speaking list when the tax amendment—the kidnap bill—was before this house. You let it collapse and you did not call a division. You go back and check the tapes. I have got a copy of them—
That is true. I learnt that in Senate school. Nevertheless, let me tell you who is misleading the Australian people. There is no transparency in place now. Had the kidnap amendment failed, then yes, the original bill put up by the Labor Party many years ago—and I acknowledged even in my rage this morning that the Labor Party has legacy on this issue, but that has gone because of the failure of this place to make sure we had the numbers to defeat it. We did not. We missed it. I and Senator Xenophon have both admitted publicly that the Senate itself has egg on its face. I have been man enough to admit that we could have done a better job and that the committee had the wool pulled over its eyes by certain front groups who were masquerading as being much bigger representatives than they were in terms of the people who wanted to avoid disclosing their tax and be shielded. We admitted that we got that wrong and that is why we brought the amendment back a few weeks ago and why we are having this debate now.
We need now to discuss why general purpose accounting—which is an amendment legitimately moved by Senator Xenophon—is so critical to this debate. It has been written on by some very good journalists, like Michael West from Fairfax and others, and it is an absolutely critical part of this debate. The government has agreed that this will be included in the legislation. That is a win for tax transparency. Whichever way you look at it, it is a significant win that the largest corporations in the world will be compelled to provide detailed information.
Senator Conroy, in case you have not read it, there is a 'Statement of Accounting Concepts', with a chapter 'Objectives of general purpose financial reporting', which is a nice summary of why general purpose accounting is really important. I know, because I have chatted to Andrew Leigh, a member of parliament, about the work the Labor Party wants to do in the future on tax disclosure and on multinational reporting, that things such as profit shifting, thin capitalisation and transfer pricing—this is where you get your information on what actually does need to change.
These things are being discussed in the context of the G20, but we have a chance to lead the pack before the G20, to take some action here today to put in place legislation that will kick a goal for multinational tax avoidance. That is what we are dealing with here today. Let us move the debate to why we need general purpose accounting, why that is a good amendment that will be put up by the Australian Greens and was put up originally by Senator Xenophon and then let us discuss why the $200 million threshold is a good start. It is easy to come in here and to say, 'We could've done better. If you'd left it to us, the government would've crumbled,' but I know, and this is what the Greens discussed and is why we have arrived at this great result today—
We are proud of it. The reason we have done this today is that we know that once we get the disclosure we will get momentum. Once we get disclosure for those companies of over $200 million, once it becomes the norm for wealthy corporations to disclose their tax affairs, then we can take the next step. This is very good legislation and for anyone who cares about multinational tax avoidance, tax transparency and tax justice in this country, rather than just taking political pot shots, you must support this legislation today. So let us get on with the substantive amendments. Let us debate the detail. Put the politics aside and let the Australian people focus on what is in this bill.
Senator Conroy, that is because you want to distract away from the fact that you are going to vote against some very good legislation and you will have a lot of explaining to do when you do it, because that is what is at stake here. Our party firmly believes we have delivered a good outcome. Is it perfect? No, it is not. All the bills we have looked at, including your Bradbury bill, is not perfect either. There is still a long way to go down this road if we are going to defeat multinational tax avoidance. There is still a long way to go but this is a very good and very important first step.
I am not misleading the Senate, Senator Conroy. I was in the chair when it happened and I am very aware of what happened, but it took the Greens to get this issue back on the table. We are the ones who moved the amendment and that is why we are having this debate today. And that is why we have delivered a good legislative outcome. I urge the Senate to focus, right now in committee, on debating the detail of the bills in front of us.
I want to come back to the government for a moment—I will come back to the Greens shortly. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee, in Alert Digest No. 7 of 2015, made these requests:
The committee … seeks a detailed justification from the Minister which addresses the fairness of these provisions in light of the above—
I will stop there for a moment. I am too outraged by the Greens, actually. I cannot deal with that question. I have to leave you alone, Senator Cormann. It is just too hard for me. I will come back to you shortly. Let me deal with the Greens first because it is a complete sell out. I just worked myself up. I was going to ask the government some very detailed questions about this bill, but I will come back to that shortly. What is so outrageous about this is the Greens get on their feet and take the high moral ground on every point they can. They could not be more holier-than-thou in their utterances and—
Despite the Senate hearings, community support and a general campaign from the public for greater transparency and the end of multinational tax avoidance, the Senate had already passed the amended version of the bill. The votes were here in the Senate for the legislation, but, no, the Greens have done a deal with the government to lower that threshold. Lower it—not increase it, not expand it, but lower the threshold to exempt more companies from this legislation. Make no mistake: the Greens do not actually believe in anything anymore—if they ever did. If they do, they can certainly be bought. And, judging by what happened today, they can be bought pretty cheaply as well.
I would have thought, from the Greens' high moral ground, that they would have asked for something that even the government may have blushed at giving them. The government may have given it to them in the end but would have blushed in doing so. But we do not know yet what the deal is. We assume, of course, that in lowering the threshold and walking backwards from tough multinational tax avoidance legislation the Greens have taken the high moral ground and said, 'Better something than nothing.' I think what the Greens have secured as part of this grubby deal with the government is yet to be revealed. I think Senator Cormann is clever enough to offer them a good deal, and they have taken it. What is that good deal, Senator Cormann? We will only find out in the course of time, when it comes to light and we can see what the Greens got as a consequence of signing up to this grubby deal.
I understand that, as new leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale feels the need to make his mark and fill the shoes of people like Dr Bob Brown and Christine Milne, but this is not the way to do it. It is a desperate attempt by the Greens to grasp relevancy by selling out on multinational tax avoidance. Senator Di Natale said yesterday that he was taking our advice about not just shouting from the sidelines. If this is what happens when the Greens become engaged, then please, please go back to the sidelines from whence you came. At least that way you do not break anything.
The Greens and the Liberals are legislating for multinational tax dodges to continue inhabiting the loopholes that exist in our tax system. The Greens and Liberals are in coalition on less transparency for hundreds of companies, to support the big end of town. The rational way of putting this is: you would expect the government, in a multinational tax avoidance bill, to lower the threshold. You would expect this government to try to obscure transparency. They have done that with FOI. They have an extraordinary record in making sure that there is no transparency in FOI. They have closed it down. They have shut the door, and in this area they are doing the same. They do not want the light of day to penetrate. From anybody's perspective, I can understand why the coalition wants that. The big end of town supports them. They tip their hat to the big end of town. They support the big end of town. They get their donations from the big end of town, so it makes sense. The Greens, on the other hand, have not been able to recognise that—by the way it looks. Because by signing up to this deal you have signed up to the big end of town. You have signed up to ensure that there is less transparency.
The other matter is, of course, that just like when they supported the defeat of the CPRS in the Senate, to the environment's detriment, we see them now supporting corporate tax dodgers. That is the Greens party of today. I have been here long enough to see the Greens take the high moral ground in many debates in this place over many, many hours of debating from a positive perspective—sometimes I did not agree with them, but they certainly put their arguments forward. Now we have the Greens of today. They are a mere shadow of that party, and are now the party that receives six-figure donations from corporate donors, the party that votes with the Liberals to support a watered down, weak piece of legislation that does nothing to capture the majority of multinational tax dodges. Progressives everywhere should be dismayed at the Greens' position—in fact, the Greens' capitulation.
Senator Cormann has done a good job in corralling the Greens and doing a deal with them. I would not have expected Senator Cormann to achieve that, quite frankly, but he has. He did it either through a brilliant manoeuvre or a brilliant piece of negotiation—actually, I do not think that. I would like to ascribe it to Senator Cormann, but I think they just rolled. I think he got handed it on a plate and was smart enough to take it, because I do not think the Greens would have negotiated this in a fair negotiation. I think they are desperate for relevancy and, as such, they have chosen this course. The question, however, is: for what reason would they do this? Was it simply a case of, as I have described, bad negotiation or sharp negotiation by Senator Cormann? Was it the negotiation skills of a new, weak, inexperienced leader from the Greens? Or, as I said earlier, do they expect to get something out of this which is not transparent today?
They ought to come clean in this debate and tell the Senate what they have traded for this rollover, because we will find it at some point. It will be transparent; it will bubble up to the surface as always. These things cannot be hidden.
We have the wonderful contribution by Senator McKim. I listened to it on Monday, but I thought I would share it with you again. There is the beauty of the speech by Senator McKim. I am not wont to give other senators advice in this place—it is not my place generally—but I will comment on this. It is wonderful. This is on the exemption debate with respect to the Australian citizenship bill. He said:
This is a disgraceful abuse of parliamentary process, an outrageous collusion between the government and their mates on national security in the Labor Party. They are treating this parliament with utter contempt, and I say to the crossbenchers and I say to good longstanding senators in this place: you should stand up for the Senate here. You should vote against the motion that is currently before the Senate and give us all a chance to actually get our heads around the amendments that have been put through the House of Representatives and that appeared in the Senate only moments ago this evening.
There is the beauty of that paragraph. Within fewer than three days we had Senator McKim completely ignore what he said in the debate on Monday. The only advice I would generally give to anyone is: make sure you remember what you say from one day to the next in this place, because it will come back to bite you if you overstep the mark. He was using much rhetorical flourish that day attacking the Labor Party for being sensible with respect to national security, but he also complained bitterly about our position. Within a couple of days, we find that Senator McKim ought to come back into this place and apologise for those words.
In fact, you could read Senator McKim back into that paragraph, because it is a disgraceful abuse of the parliamentary process for the Greens and the government to come together and ram this legislation through with a dirty, outrageous deal. As he went on to say, it was an outrageous collusion between the government and the Greens with respect to that matter and they are treating the parliament with utter contempt. I say to the crossbenchers and the Labor Party: good, longstanding senators in this place should stand up for the Senate here, should vote against the bill that is currently before the Senate, give us all a chance to get our heads around proper amendments to the bill and pass a much better bill than what is currently before the Senate. That would have been a much better speech given today, following on from his contribution with respect to the earlier debate. But, no, we only get that from him.
There is still an opportunity within the debate in this place to not proceed, look at the amendments that Labor have to keep the multinationals honest in this debate and ensure that any multinational tax package is fair for all and asks all Australians to pay their fair share of tax, including the multinationals. On this side of the chamber—notwithstanding that the Greens think they might sometimes be here—we think the priority should be to shut down the loopholes that allow big multinationals to send the profits overseas. We think that the coalition's path is the wrong path. They are on the path of cutting pensions and they are on the path of making sure young Australians pay more tax, while the Greens have now sidled up to them and have completely debased themselves by enjoining with the coalition on this matter.
I have some specific questions that I want to put to the Minister for Finance. They relate to specific questions that I put to him earlier. I understand that there will be some comprehensive responses that go to the substance of this debate, particularly in relation to the general purpose account amendments that Senator Di Natale will be moving shortly as part of the debate. It is important to get those matters on the record given that those amendments will be moved. My first question previously was: will the test for application have to be based on consolidated revenues as defined by accounting standards, the same as in the large proprietary company test in the Corporations Act?
I thank Senator Xenophon for actually asking me a question and making a contribution that relates to the bill in front of us. It is not normally my custom to provide answers in relation to somebody else's amendments—in particular when those amendments have not been moved yet. However, in the spirit of Christmas and because I feel like I have been ignored in the debate as there was the ferocious debate between Labor and the Greens, I am happy to provide the information that Senator Xenophon is seeking. In short, in answer to his question: yes, the test for application is on a consolidated revenues basis, as defined by the accounting standards. This is stated explicitly in the bill, pursuant to subsection 960-555(2A).
Entities will be permitted to lodge either tier 1 or tier 2 accounts depending the activities of the company and consistent with existing AASB reporting requirements. It is not a discretion of the regulator and is in line with international accounting definitions that both tier 1 and tier 2 include significant taxation related party payment information.
The timing requirement to lodge general purpose accounts is stated explicitly as being consistent with the obligation to lodge an income tax return pursuant to section 3CA(2) that is consistent with the deadline in the Taxation Administration Act. This is actually nothing to do with the Corporations Act.
I am indebted today to the Greens for discovering a socioeconomic new creature. It is the blackmailer and kidnapper who distinguishes between people whose companies have $100 million and those who have $200 million. Let's be clear, the only argument the government have advanced for why we should not be doing this is based on the fact that people would be kidnapped. The Greens have managed to discover kidnappers who actually distinguish between $100 million and $200 million. You are geniuses, absolute geniuses. I want to congratulate you on that, because you are voting to accept an argument that says: people with more than $200 million are going to be kidnapped, but people who have less than $200 million are not going to be kidnapped. So I want to congratulate you on finding the socioeconomic kidnapping fraternity, because it is marvellous.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Request your advice, Senator Conroy.
I do have one question for Senator Cormann. My understanding is that the Liberal party room opposed all of the $100 million upwards being removed. So, did you take this deal back to the Liberal party room, given you have a party room decision not to move from $100 million? Could I just seek clarification? Did you take this deal to cabinet and has it gone to your party room?
I am quite bemused by Senator Conroy's interest in internal coalition party room matters. Let me just say that all legislation and all amendments are dealt with through the proper process in the usual way, as has happened on this occasion.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Desist from the harassment, Senator Dastyari.
Let me be clear, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised the Liberal party room that he would engage in the proper cabinet processes and the proper party room processes. What Senator Cormann has just admitted is that there was no proper party room consultation on overturning a decision made previously by the cabinet and previously by the party room.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: A point of order, resume your seat. Minister, on a point of order.
The point of order is that Senator Conroy is actually misleading the Senate. He is verballing what I said and inaccurately representing what I said. I did not make any such suggestion and he should desist from misleading the Senate.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I am sure Senator Conroy will amend.
That was not a point of order at all. What has become apparent here, as Senator Cormann knows, is that an existing party room vote has been overturned by his deal with the Greens, and they have not gone back to the party room. You have not gone back to the party room to get approval to change the position of the party room. The processes that Prime Minister Turnbull put in place have been, as usual, rode over roughshod. The backbench party members are deeply unhappy about lack of process. Some of them are so unhappy that they have defected to the Queensland National Party. What a success you guys are. You are on a tare.
You have overturned your cabinet decision and you have overturned your party room decision. I just wanted to make sure, and confirm through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, that it is on the public record that this deal, which overturns an existing Liberal party room position, is not approved by the cabinet of Australia or by the Liberal party room. No-one has been given an opportunity to say what they think. No-one has been given an opportunity to make an argument against the deal that has been done. I can understand, Senator Cormann, when you get a mug who is going to accept the purchase of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from you, you have to try to ram it through quickly. The Liberal party room has been treated with contempt by the ministers involved in these discussions. I wanted to make sure that was on the record.
I now want to address some untruths—some misleading of the Senate that has taken place in the last hour or so. It is quite embarrassing when you have a guilty conscience and you want to distract people from the fact that you have just sold your soul and sold out on everything you have campaigned for for two years, and overturned your own party and platform's position and what you have been seeking to do; I understand you would want to try and distract. So you want to fabricate history. Senator Whish-Wilson, the story you have attempted to tell and the story you are telling those poor, upset, ordinary Australians—or possibly even your branch members—when they have phoned your offices is untrue. Okay? Untrue.
So I want to put this on the public record. Firstly, as you well know, I was not here—I was overseas on a delegation when the debate took place. So do not try and represent that there were not people in the Labor Party willing to speak on this issue. That is the first point.
Secondly, and more importantly, as Senator Dastyari has said, and I will not need to speak for him because he will be speaking shortly, you have absolutely fabricated—Mr Temporary Chairman, could you ask Senator Heffernan to take his seat, please—
fabricated—no, no; his seat.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: I think that is a fair request of you, Senator Heffernan. Would you move over to your seat. Senator Conroy is being distracted, and the last thing we need is a furthering of his distraction. Senator Conroy, please proceed.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan! Would you please go over to your seat. In the meantime you are disrupting proceedings.
He is disrupting deliberately, but ask him to sit down.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Conroy, proceed.
So the Greens know full well—particularly Senator Whish-Wilson, who has incorrectly stated that he was in the chair, knows full well—that he actually asked Labor to help bring the vote on. And then the bill collapsed—actually, a bill collapsed, and it was brought on suddenly—
No, it was not your fault. No, I did not say, 'You collapsed the bill.' The bill being debated beforehand collapsed, and then there was confusion in the chamber about what happened, and a vote was put, and nothing was recorded. There was not a desire by the Labor senators not to speak on this bill, as Senator Whish-Wilson is attempting to portray. This is a complete and utter fabrication that you are constructing to distract from your guilty conscience. Well, you are not going to get away with this. I know Senator Dastyari is going to speak at some considerable length on this particular issue so that the truth is on Hansard, not the fabrications that you have put onto the Hansard today. When you pick up the phone and answer, you are not going to be able to say, 'See what I said on Hansard,' because the truth will be on Hansard, not what you are attempting to portray as the truth. You have a guilty conscience, Senator Whish-Wilson, and I understand that. Sorry, my apologies.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Is this a point of order or a debating point?
described these people, the Greens, as 'lickspittles' today, which I think is disgusting.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Heffernan. That is not a point of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you; I will take on that point of order. Thank you, Senator Conroy. Please continue. I know you will continue to address Senator Whish-Wilson through the chair.
I accept your admonishment, Mr Temporary Chairman. I have strayed again. I did not realise that poor Senator Whish-Wilson was such a tender soul. I had come to know him as slightly more robust than that.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Sit down, Senator Heffernan. It is not a point of order. Senator Conroy, please continue.
We are actually in committee, just for the record—
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: We are.
so it is a slightly different process.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Absolutely. No problem.
I understand a guilty conscience when I see one, Senator Whish-Wilson. I understand a guilty conscience. But you do not get to come in here and fabricate history. The Labor Party has campaigned hard on this. Senator Whish-Wilson, I will do my best to avoid revealing private conversations, but I was gratified by what you said to me when I made a contribution on this debate the last time it was in the chamber. I was gratified. What I did not know was that you were a wolf in sheep's clothing—that you were planning on actually thanking me so you could sell me out a few weeks later. But I do actually have a question: were you even invited to the meeting last night? My understanding is that they did not let you go. They did not let you go, did they? Oh dear! It's classic!
We are in committee, you idiot!
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan, you have made your point. I accept it. We are in committee. Senator Conroy is in order.
I withdraw. I know Senator Heffernan is not a tender soul, but I am happy to withdraw. But I want it on the record: the Greens have just defended Senator Heffernan!
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN interjecting—
I really want to make sure it is on the record. Senator Heffernan protects the Greens; the Greens protect Senator Heffernan. I am with the program. Don't worry—we're with the program!
But I do think it is sad that you were not even invited to the meeting last night, Senator Whish-Wilson. You were not even invited into the room to make the case that you wanted to make. That is the sad part: when your leader runs rogue on you and leaves you sitting outside the door while he is inside, trying to pretend he is a mover and shaker and that he can get an outcome so that he can make himself important. Welcome, Senator McKim. I am not surprised that you are taking a higher profile since you came here, because it won't be long for you, don't worry; it won't be long for you. When your membership work out what you have done today, you will be able to say: 'It wasn't me. I wasn't invited either. The brains trust up the front of the chamber—this was their idea. We campaigned for two years. We had the numbers. We campaigned and we had the numbers. We had the government over a barrel, and then Senator Di Natale took charge.' You ran a fantastic campaign—a fantastic campaign. 'We had the numbers, and then the boss sold me out. The boss wandered in, without us'—without any of you there—'and they tickled his tummy, gave him a few Tim Tams, and they sold him the Harbour Bridge!' You have had to keep looking in the mirror, saying: 'It's a good deal. It's a good deal. It's a good deal'. You have had to convince yourself so that you can come in here today.
Senator Whish-Wilson cannot rewrite history. He cannot try and pretend that Labor has not been as committed as he has on this issue. There may have been genuine mistakes and things that went wrong on the floor the first time this came through, but we all worked to try and deliver to the Australian taxpayers the truth that the big end of town do not want revealed. There is nothing you can say today that will change the fact that you have accepted an argument that people whose companies earn over $200 million are in fear of being kidnapped if the truth was revealed! That is the only argument the government put forward, and you have now swallowed it and signed up to it. Even Senator Muir, a relative newcomer to the chamber, accepted, when he heard how silly that argument was, that it had to be changed. It had to be changed. But you, Senator Whish-Wilson, always knew that it was a complete and utter load of rubbish.
Apparently, your leader did not. Apparently, your leader fell for it. You let him out of your sight for five minutes and he has sold you down the drain. I could at least have some respect for your leader if he had invited you to come to the meeting. Were you afraid that he would embarrass you, Senator Di Natale? Were you afraid that Senator Whish-Wilson might actually not be quite so willing to roll over? I mean, really! You did not take your shadow spokesperson to this most important meeting even though he has campaigned on this for two years. To not be invited by your leader to the meeting, Senator Whish-Wilson—
There is no point showing him some Twitter feed to try and pretend that people are on your side, Senator Di Natale. Let me promise you, they are not on your side. Your members are not on your side. They know a sell-out when they see it. They can smell a sell-out, and no amount of convincing yourselves each morning in the mirror for the next six months—'we didn't sell out; we didn't sell out'. You will have to keep telling yourselves that because your members will know. Your members will know by Christmas that you protected the big end of town, that you caved in when you had the numbers. It was not like it was in the balance. We had said 'no'.
And I was very offended by something you said earlier. I have spoken on it already, Senator Whish-Wilson, but I do not think you were here. You were pretending that we were somehow on the verge of selling out, and you took the deal before we did—Senator Whish-Wilson, that one was beneath you. You are better than that. We had absolutely, emphatically rejected the offer last night—rejected it. It was a joke.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Yes, they made us an offer last night—they picked up the phone—and we said 'no'. You mugs picked up the phone and said 'yes'. You picked up the phone and said 'yes'. We rejected it last night. They kept coming back and knocking on our door, so don't you fabricate history by trying to justify your behaviour by saying that we were on the verge—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
You were not on the phone call. We were not on the verge—
A government senator interjecting—
You were not even on the phone call—unless, you are keeping track of Mr Morrison's phone calls!
A government senator interjecting—
Oh, yes, absolutely! There are those of you who will have to try and justify protecting the biggest private companies in this country when you had the numbers. It is not that there was a negotiation and it was in the mix—that there might have been a win here and there might have been a loss there. We had the numbers. We actually got together and got the numbers, and we got an outcome where the government was over a barrel. And you blinked. You let them off the hook. You blinked!
It does not bear thinking about! You blinked. You will not be able to get away from the fact that we had the numbers to get a much, much better outcome than this and you blinked. Stop trying to justify it by saying that they were not going to do it; that this is better than nothing. We could have got better than this, and you blinked. You know it; you blinked. Because your genius leader decided he would not invite you and would not let you actually have the debate with the Treasurer—he was too embarrassed to have you in the room or whatever the excuse was—you blinked. There is no way to hide the fact that the numbers in this chamber were on your side. Two years of work, and you blinked and you let this government off the hook. We would have got a better outcome if you had a spine, a bit of backbone and a bit of political courage. That was not shown by your leader when he left you behind and went off and negotiated with the Treasurer.
Let me be very clear: when Senator Cormann knocks on your door and says that he has another harbour bridge to sell you, you have already bought it! You do not have to buy it a second time. You have already bought it. At least make him sell you the gateway bridge!
Is that is the best you have? We heard about one-week-old kale—I feel like I have been slapped by one-week-old kale! That is the best you have! All the faux outrage in the world. You are so committed to tax transparency that you were about to sign onto an hours motion that would have ditched it and kicked it down the road. You had no commitment to this issue. You were going to sign on to a hours motion that did not have the multinational tax avoidance bill in it. It did not even have it in the hours motion. You are so committed to this issue!
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan on a point of order.
So committed is the Labor Party to tax transparency that when they negotiated the hours motion for today it was not even on the agenda. They are so committed to it. They think it is so important that when they had the opportunity to talk with the coalition and insist on what legislation should be debated today, no, it was not on the agenda. Do you know what that would have done? It would have meant for companies like Serco: another year off scot-free—don't publish your affairs. Glencore: another year—don't worry about it, we'll let you off the hook. News Limited: who would have thought that the Labor Party would be out there defending the tax affairs of News Limited? Who would have thought it? But here we have the Labor Party saying to News Limited, 'You pay whatever tax you like, because we are not coming after you.'
Let's have a look at some of their donors. Ingham Chicken, one of the companies that will be captured as a result of the Greens amendment, a huge donor to the ALP: 'No, we don't want you to pay your tax affairs. No, let's go quiet. We are doing an hour's motion today. We'll make sure multinational tax avoidance isn't even debated today in the parliament.' Pratt Holdings, another private company, and the second-largest donor on the grandfathered list of the ALP and the Liberal Party: 'No, let's go quiet today. We'll make a big deal of it but we will kick the can down the road. You can continue not publishing how much tax you pay.'
Then we hear about 7-Eleven—the outrage of the 7-Eleven workers. What would the 7-Eleven workers say now that we hear that 7-Eleven will not have to disclose their tax affairs? They do not even understand their own legislation. 7-Eleven is on the list. They will be voting against 7-Eleven from declaring their tax affairs. That is what they will be doing. That is what the Labor Party will be doing.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan on a point of order.
Let us just put a few facts on the table. To those punters at home who were confused by all the huff and bluster and all the theatre and so on, let us be clear about what the situation is at the moment. At the moment those multinational companies do not have to disclose their affairs. At the moment, 281 of Australia's richest private companies do not have to tell the Australian public how much tax they pay. We walk away from today without passing this legislation and those big multinational tax avoiders get off scot-free. The Labor Party wants to shout from the sidelines and yell at the coalition about how terrible the coalition is on multinational tax avoidance, and do nothing about it. That is what the Labor Party wants to do. They want to shout from the sidelines and run up to an election saying, 'You guys are terrible,' but when they have the chance to pass legislation to do something about it they are missing in action. That is the Labor Party's tactic on this issue. Well, we are not going to buy it. We have a responsibility in this place, when we can, to get outcomes for people.
Here we have today an opportunity to ensure that companies like Serco, like Glencore, like News Limited, like Johnson & Johnson, like Pfizer, like Unilever all have to disclose their general purpose accounts, which means we know exactly how they structure their affairs and how much tax they are not paying. If we do not pass this legislation those companies get off scot-free. That is what the Labor Party wants to do today. How shameful that we have private companies, companies like Transfield, the organisation that has been contracted to run our detention centre network, worth billions of dollars, and the Labor Party is saying to them, 'Don't worry, we don't want you to disclose your tax affairs to the Australian community.' That is what the Labor Party is saying today.
Some facts need to be laid down on the table. If we do nothing today, do you know what tax transparency we have? Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. We have the opportunity to disclose the affairs of those multinational tax avoiders by passing this legislation.
Senator Conroy says, 'We had the numbers.' Well, he needs a lesson on how democracy works in Australia. There is something called the Lower House, and the government has control of the Lower House. The government has said they will not pass that legislation, and we get another year where we have those big companies that do not disclose their affairs, so that the Labor Party have an issue to campaign on right up to the next election. Well, do you know what? I want outcomes. I want to get things done. Our party wants outcomes. That is why we together made a consensus decision to ensure that these laws would be passed.
The government's bill ensures that next year, consistent with the G20 arrangements, we have country by country reporting. Without the passage of these laws we do not get it—another year where these companies are off scot-free. This legislation will double the penalties that these tax dodgers face by disclosing their affairs. It gives the ATO increased powers. We have the opportunity to do that right now, today, by passing this legislation, and the Labor Party is saying, 'No, let's do nothing. Let's just shout from the sidelines.' Well, we are not shouting from the sidelines. We are rolling up our sleeves and we are making sure that these companies pay their fair share.
I also want to say thank you to the Labor Party. The Labor Party today put out an email where they have said to their members and supporters, 'Contact the Greens office, contact Richard Di Natale, and tell him what you think.' Well, thank you very much. We have a scoreboard in the office right now. Can I tell you about the scoreboard? We are running at 95 per cent conversion rate. People are ringing up and complaining about what we have supposedly done, according to the ALP, so we have a conversation with them and let them know what is actually happening in the Senate, and nine out of 10 people who were previously supporters of Labor are now voting for the Greens at the next election. My request to the Labor Party: can you put another one out tomorrow? Put another one out, please. We love it. It is terrific. Thank you very much. We are thrilled.
Apparently, by not passing multinational tax avoidance we have less money to spend on schools and hospitals. Let's have a look at the logic here. The logic is that if we do not pass legislation that forces multinationals to disclose their tax, that gives increased powers to the ATO, and that ensures private companies disclose their tax affairs, there is less money for schools and hospitals. Thank you very much—what a gift! Where is the brains trust who thought that one up? Terrific—we love it. It is a great opportunity.
And we have the Tax Justice Network—the people who have been leading this campaign, who triggered it off, who said years ago to those people in this place: 'Something has to be done around multinational tax avoidance. We need you to do something on multinational tax avoidance.' We listened. We referred the issue to a Senate inquiry. The reason we are having this debate is that the Greens led the charge and referred it to a Senate inquiry. We did that and, as a result of that, we have laws from this government—one of the few decent pieces of legislation put to this parliament that we have been able to amend and to strengthen to ensure that we give more powers to those organisations that are pursuing multinational tax dodgers. We are getting more transparency for private companies, we are getting more transparency for those multinationals and we are going to ensure that we listen to the Tax Justice Network, who today have said, 'What a great step forward for transparency.' This is a step forward for transparency. Year-by-year, country-by-country reporting will get underway this year. This legislation will ensure that happens.
You have a choice in this business: you can throw rocks from the sidelines, you can try and gee people up and do nothing, or you can roll your sleeves up and get an outcome. You had the option to decide what you wanted to do, and yesterday, when you were negotiating with this government on what you thought were the priority pieces of legislation, where was multinational tax avoidance? Where was it? Nowhere. It was not on the government's business for today and next year, kicking the can down the road. Well, we did something. For all the faux outrage, for all the anger, for all the theatrics, there is a key lesson here. When you are in this place you get outcomes. You have an opportunity to ensure that you listen to those people who have campaigned on these issues and you ensure that what you get is companies like Transfield, like Grocon, like Inghams chicken—big donors to the Labor Party, let me tell you—like Pratt Holdings, like Meriton and like 7-Eleven, and you ensure that they disclose the amount of tax that they pay. We have stopped multinationals like News Limited, like Glencore, like BMW and like big pharma from filing flimsy financial reports and forced them to provide the details that ensure that we can keep a close eye on them, because transparency is critical. Transparency is absolutely fundamental in this. We have taken a good piece of legislation and we have made it better.
We hear, 'What about those other 600 companies?' At the moment they do not have to declare one cent—not one cent. As a result of this legislation, 281 companies are now declaring how much tax they paid.
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
I hear the faux outrage from Senator Dastyari. He does not like this deal. Do you know why he does not like this deal? He does not like this outcome for the Australian community. Do you know why he does not like it? Because he has not been able to feed it to his mates in the press gallery and to stand up and start grandstanding about how he is leading the charge. He is missing in action. The man is missing in action. He is all huff, all bluster and no substance—all tip and no iceberg. This is a man who is more intent on grandstanding and shouting from the sidelines than on delivering outcomes. Well, we believe in outcomes. That is why we have supported this legislation—and not just supported it, but strengthened it and amended it—and ensured that multinationals, huge private companies, finally declare how much tax they are not paying. We know that is a driver to more transparency and to ensuring that those companies change their arrangements and justify to the Australian community why they are not paying their fair share of tax.
Ultimately we know that in this place it is a bubble, but out there the Australian community, as a result of the passage of this legislation, will know that finally the Australian parliament has taken some huge strides forward in terms of going after those companies that are not paying their fair share. We have a choice: again, the Labor Party can run a GST campaign, they can talk about multinational tax avoidance, they can talk about those things and do nothing; or, if we are going to pay for schools, if we are going to pay for hospitals, if we are going to pay for the services that the Australian community wants and deserves, then we need a fairer tax system. A fairer tax system means going after multinational tax avoiders, not shielding them. It means going after them. It means ensuring you end unfair tax breaks like superannuation tax concessions, like the huge fossil fuel subsidies to the mining industry—another Labor party gift to Gina Rinehart and her ilk. We have a choice. We can have a fairer tax base, and the way to achieve that is through measures that go after the tax dodgers, the big end of town—measures that go after those high-wealth individuals who use superannuation, negative gearing and capital gains tax reform as a tax break.
It is the Greens who are leading the economic debate in this country. It is the Greens who are now showing what is necessary to ensure that we balance our budget, that we address some of the structural challenges in Australia's budget. We are leading the charge to making the country fairer and more decent, to raising revenue and to ensuring that schools and hospitals are funded. You guys can shout from the sidelines, but we are in the business of rolling our sleeves up and getting it done, and we will continue to do it. This is just the start. The next stop with transparency is to ensure that we get more companies brought in under this legislation, that we give more powers to the ATO, that we resource ASIC and the Taxation Office, and that we finally make some progress towards getting a fairer tax base so that we can have the community that the Australian people deserve.
I rise to express a personal view in which I support the pursuit of multinationals who are avoiding the Australian taxation system, but I also flag with the Senate that I am unable to support this legislation if it is successful in having an amendment about the disclosure of tax affairs of private companies published on the ATO website. I want to explain why I have come to this position. About 18 months ago, I was made aware of a circumstance where private companies' tax affairs were going to be disclosed on the ATO's website. It was Labor Party policy. I raised that with some ministers in my own party. They undertook to examine repealing it and that happened a few weeks ago. The work done by Josh Frydenberg and others in that respect was valued. That decision went to our party room and the party room unanimously endorsed it and hence it was shepherded through both houses of parliament.
That policy decision has never been revisited in our party room. It has never been discussed at any level that I am aware of and I first became aware of it this morning when I asked what the price of the deal was with the Greens party for the passage of this amendment.
The price was, indeed, this overturning of a party room decision, something that I feel very strongly about. So why I not be supporting the amendment to disclose the tax affairs of private companies. If it is successful, I will not be supporting the passage of this bill. I regret that it has come to this, but the circumstances are the party room have undertaken a position.
I commend the minister who was responsible for it and for shepherding it through this place—Josh Frydenberg worked very hard. To have this sprung on us at the last minute, I think, is not in the best interests of my party and the procedures and policies we work with. I regret very much it has come to this and I also regret the Labor Party will make merry hay over this. It is not about that; it is really about the principles and the processes that need to be endorsed.
Just stay there, please, Senator Conroy, you do need to listen to what I have to say. I rise to talk about some amendments that I am moving today on the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. I intend on moving two amendments. In an effort to save time during this debate, I would like to discuss them both now as they are related. Right from the start of this debate, my concerns have been directly related to the issue of privacy. This should be no surprise to those who have been following my work to hear this. My amendment will ensure that a successful small business is not unintentionally caught up in this legislation. My amendment in this area seeks to use the existing definition under the Corporations Act as a safety net.
The Corporations Act has a distinction between large and small proprietary companies. That distinction determines which businesses must disclose their financial information publicly. This disclosure is made via the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, otherwise known as ASIC. ASIC then publish this information on their website and it is available to the public for a small fee. Only large proprietary companies have this disclosure obligation to ASIC; small proprietary companies are exempt. I sought to apply this standard to these amendments to ensure that if a limited view of the company's tax information were to be displayed by the ATO, the full financial picture would be then available via ASIC. This was to minimise the risk of any public misunderstanding.
In addition to this, I also sought to educate the public viewing this information, that the full financial information is required to better understand what they were looking at on the ATO website. I sought to do this via a disclaimer on the ATO website. I even went as far as requiring a direct website link to the full financial information on the ASIC website. This was all done in an attempt to present this information in a fair and balanced way.
I have attempted to work with the government and the Greens on these issues today. I had been hopeful that the Greens and the government could see the common sense in this. I do think that the government see merit in this, and probably support it, but due to the deal with the Greens, they cannot. I would have thought that the government would be supportive of an amendment that limits the number of businesses that would be captured by the tax transparency laws but, to my surprise, they do not. This is a significant shift. Who would have thought that it would be me, a senator from the Motoring Enthusiast Party, standing up for small proprietary companies in the face of government opposition. This leads me to the second amendment that I will be moving to this bill.
During my research into this topic, I became aware of a 20-year-old transitional provision, referred to as grandfathering. Around 1,500 private companies enjoy an exemption from disclosing financial information to ASIC when they meet the large proprietary company test. It is my understanding that this provision was intended to only last three years, to allow these companies to transition their accounting practices to those required by ASIC. Rather than enforcing this transition period, governments from both sides have decided to keep this loophole in place.
It is also my understanding that there is a bit of a black market in the trading of the grandfathered entities because of the exemption that they enjoy. There have also been allegations made that a significant amount of these companies are not only large donors to the major political parties but also have contracts with the government. I am concerned about how this affects the transparency of politics and government in this country. The major parties, despite various commitments made over the years, have failed to resolve this issue. Therefore, it is my intent to try to clear this up today.
I understand that the Australian Labor Party will support my amendment to remove grandfathering. I also understand that the Australian Greens would like to as well, but they are committed to the agreement with the government and are now forced to vote against this amendment. I will be very interested to see if the Australian Greens, and perhaps the government, can have a last minute change of heart. The reality is the Greens are the ones in control on this matter. They are the ones that have the bargaining power on this issue. I call on the Greens to work together on this issue and support the integrity in our country's financial disclosure laws, politics and government to close this transitional loophole.
Before I finish, the last couple of contributions I have made in this chamber have been followed by lengthy off-the-cuff-criticism from Senator Conroy. I would like to say to Senator Conroy, through you, Chair, that I hope this contribution attracts a more favourable response, and I look forward to the rest of the debate.
I want to begin by—and I have got a few questions at the end of this—acknowledging a couple of the contributions that have been made. I want to acknowledge the contribution of Senator Bernardi. I do not hold the same view at all on the issue of tax transparency that Senator Bernardi holds. I acknowledge that Senator Bernardi has always come to this with a point of principle that I disagree with and, unlike others in this chamber, he has maintained that point of principle.
I also note the contribution of Senator Muir in this debate, which I think has been nothing but constructive and positive. I think, Senator Muir, your amendments are fantastic. The reality is: the major politics of this country for many years did not tackle a lot of these issues, because they were put in the too-hard basket. Frankly, I think that is a responsibility that lies across all the major parties.
I acknowledge that we did some good things when we were in power. There were several pieces of significant legislation, but I believe that the last Labor government could have and should have gone further in some of it, and perhaps having crossbench senators such as you here at that point in time would have pressured us to do so. We are better off for having you in this chamber.
It is more amazing as this day goes by that we keep realising who has actually been duped throughout this process. It is almost everybody, Mr Chairman. The people who have been duped are: the federal cabinet, because the process, the decision and the deal were not taken to the cabinet; the Liberal Party room, who had already met, discussed this issue and reached a position, were not told about this secret deal; and the crossbench senators, who had worked with the Greens—and the Greens had played a great role, great rhetoric, on this issue over a long period of time. As I have said many times before, of the many legacies that Senator Milne left in this place highlighting this issue over many years, this is something she should be rightly very proud of.
I never had the opportunity to. After what they have done today, I will never vote green again. The crossbench senators had been working with the government. Let's be clear: after the last round and the legislation got passed by the Senate—the tough measures, the right measures, these good amendments, the amendments the Greens at the time felt were good amendments, that we had all supported together—Senator Di Natale made it very, very clear that he was going to be insisting and their party's position was going to be insisting; and, if that position was going to change, then he would not leave everyone else hanging on a rock.
That wasn't the case. Senator Di Natale informed me and others after they had reached agreement. Let's be very clear—
That is a lie, Senator Di Natale.
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Dastyari, please resume your seat. The Senate will come to order. As I have made the point on a number of occasions already, we are in committee. There is no limitation to the number of contributions people can make, but only one senator should be making a contribution at any one time. Senator Dastyari, you have the call.
The CHAIRMAN: I don't think he did actually use those words. Nonetheless, Senator Dastyari has withdrawn, so thank you.
This issue of tax transparency—let's just be clear about the role of the Labor Party in this, because I think it warrants it. Yes, the Treasurer of Australia, Mr Scott Morrison, did ask the Labor Party whether or not we were prepared to negotiate on this matter. We made our position very clear: we said we would not negotiate on any point of principle or policy and, after we had been notified of that—and you know this, Senator Whish-Wilson—I made sure that you were aware of that. I said to you that they had been talking to us and that we had rejected it. We were not going to negotiate on watering down—we call it the Bradbury amendment; other people call it the 'kidnapping' bill—the piece of legislation that we all know we are talking about here. It goes by many different names but, effectively, it was the $100 million disclosure bill, which may become a $200 million disclosure bill.
The duplicity and hypocrisy that has gone on in this place and in this chamber on this piece of legislation is outrageous. I believe there was a point of principle here that had we—and we should have—stood firm for a better deal and a better outcome, we would not be exempting right now the number of companies, the 500 or 600 companies, that are now going to be exempted.
I just want to let Senator Di Natale know of some of the companies that it appears he has let off the hook. There is Pacific Petroleum. There is the NSW Business Chamber. There is the Victoria Racing Club. There is Ego Pharmaceuticals. There is Meat & Livestock Australia. They are privately owned companies which sit somewhere between $100 million and $200 million and which now will not be under any pressure.
Let us be clear: the leverage to get a better deal was making sure that the government's measures that the government itself desperately wanted were actually using that. On this idea that we are now somehow going to get a future better deal: no, the leverage is gone. The government's position has actually been consistent on this front. I do not begrudge the government. If I could get these kinds of deals out of the Greens, I would be doing it all the time. Unlike the government, I would be taking it to my party room and I would be taking it through a proper party process. It is unbelievable that, in the world of Malcolm Turnbull and this whole good-government process, all of a sudden we find out that they are not taking these matters to the party room and they are not taking these matters to cabinet, but I imagine that is an internal matter for the Liberal Party. They can discuss it over cake in the monkeypod room.
It takes one night for the Greens to go limp. It takes one night for them to fold completely on this matter. One night with Scotty, one night with the Treasurer, and the world is their oyster. It takes one night, and Senator Di Natale will fold on every matter. It has not even been a one-night stand. They could not even get past question time together. You cannot even call it a one-night stand. There are three parties involved. There are the Greens. There are the Nats. There are the Libs. I think in the Greens party they call that group love! But they do not even make it through a day. They cannot even make it through a day.
What they have done here is that they have sold out for a cheap, quickie deal done dirty on the table of the Treasurer. You should be appalled. The fact that you are prepared to sell out tax transparency under some desperate, pathetic desire to try to claw some kind of economic relevance—and let us be clear about what Senator Di Natale has actually said. The position, he said, is this: 'If the government tell us they're not going to pass something in the lower house, we can't possibly stand firm and try to fight for things here in the Senate.' That is their position. That is the principle. The principle is: 'We will be dictated to. We will be dictated to by what the government tell us they are prepared to do and not do.' What a pathetically weak party to be doing that! What is the point of principle? What is the point of principle in that matter? What is the point of principle there?
The senator goes on. His position is this: 'But we got something! But we got something!' Well, as Adele would have said, you could have had it all. You could have had it all, Senator Di Natale. If it took you more than one night, if it took more than one night to get you, you could have had it all. And that is what you have gone ahead and done on a quick deal.
Oh, no. No, no, no.
Senator Conroy interjecting—
That is right! No, unlike you, Senator Whish-Wilson, tonight I will not need to bathe in kerosene. Unlike you, I will not need to be bathing in kerosene tonight!
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Dastyari, just resume your seat for a minute. I think it is time that we maybe just review where we are at the present time. I would ask senators to be considering the comments that they make in the chamber. Senator Dastyari, you have the call.
Senator Heffernan interjecting—
The CHAIRMAN: Sit back down, Senator Dastyari. Really, Senator Heffernan, that advice also applies to you.
Senator Heffernan interjecting—
The CHAIRMAN: I do not care. The advice applies to you.
I just want to say that it is not as if the Greens have been penniless. I want to note that I believe that Graeme Wood no longer owns Wotif. I believe that Graeme Wood has actually sold Wotif. That is my understanding. It is funny to note, though, that that is a firm that has $149.69 million revenue turnover—the largest ever donor to the Liberal Party.
An honourable senator: The Greens.
The Greens, sorry. It is the largest single donation that has ever been given to a political party by an individual, as I understand it. But they are the types of companies, the types of private companies, the types of individuals, who will now have their disclosure requirements lowered.
I want to draw everyone's attention and the Senate's attention to the importance of tax transparency, the importance of staying firm, the importance of not selling out. You do not need to take my word for it. You can take Senator Richard Di Natale's words in the additional comments he provided, signed by him.
Senator Di Natale interjecting—
Oh, the words were fantastic; it is the actions that were dirty! Your words are always sweet. You are a great speaker. It is all eloquent. It is well written. You have some fantastic staff. People like Jay and Fraser, who actually stand up and believe in these issues, have done a great job writing this for you. The fact is: you have walked into this place, and tonight you are going to be selling all of it out. You are selling out the principles of transparency that you went for so strongly in your own statement. I am not going to have time to read all of this into the Hansard. I am not going to be using the opportunity afforded to me tonight to do so. But I do urge anyone who is listening who is interested in this issue—and I assume there is at least one person out there—to go onto the website and have a look at the additional comments and compare what Senator Di Natale has said on points of principle and how he has behaved.
At the heart of the argument that has been made by the Australian Greens is a lie. There is a lie at the heart of the argument because at the heart of the argument they are putting is that, firstly, any deal is better than no deal, which is a straw man, a false argument that does not stand the test of reality. It is a false argument that has been made. Let us be clear. They say, 'Oh, if we didn't do this, it was all going to fall over.' No. What is actually the fact is this. The government needed and wanted to get their legislation through. This was Joe Hockey's legacy legislation. On one night, with a brief meeting, in a secret room in the Treasurer's office, without key members of your own team present, you fold; you roll over; you are desperate to do it; you are in love with the idea of being some kind of a doormat.
You are going to give the Nationals a run for their money. The way the Nationals are going at the moment, they are going to be double or triple the size of you by the time they have finished, with these Libs defecting. You are learning from their experience about how to be a doormat. You have actually folded and you have given up, and, rather than using the leverage to get the best possible deal on tax transparency, at the first opportunity, the first deal you got, the first chance to fold, you folded. You folded as quickly as you could. You gave up instantaneously. You did not put up any kind of a fight. You did not put up any kind of a principle. You did not say: 'Hang on. How do we get the best possible deal? How do we get the best possible outcome? How do we stand firm for the principles that we have been standing firm on, not just by ourselves but with crossbench senators, with Labor senators, with cross-party, with community groups, with trade unions and with activists?' You said, 'No, the first deal we get, the first chance, we're so desperate to appease a conservative, right-wing government we will fold.' And fold you did, and quickly. It is disappointing, and it is disgusting.
In concluding—because I am very conscious of time—I am going to say something very briefly about Senator Whish-Wilson. I have to say I am utterly, utterly disappointed in the position that Senator Whish-Wilson has taken in this. I will never know the truth of this, but I do not believe this is the type of decision or the type of selling-out move that someone like Senator Whish-Wilson would otherwise do. He is a person of principle and a person of integrity. He is a person I have had the opportunity to work with very closely through the Senate economics committee process. He is someone I hold in the highest regard, and, frankly, I have to say, Senator Whish Wilson, you are a lot better than this.
I am rising to respond to the issues that were raised by Senator Muir. The government will not support the amendments proposed by Senator Muir on behalf of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party in relation to either the reporting of information about corporate tax entities or the so-called grandfathering arrangements. The government is committed to tax transparency, but it does not believe these proposed amendments contribute to a fairer or more transparent tax system beyond what the government already supports.
The existing measures which the government has in place, in addition to the action being taken by the government currently around disclosure, achieve the right balance for disclosure and transparency. The proposed amendments from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party in relation to reporting of information about corporate tax entities inserts a definition of 'private companies' based on a definition of large proprietary companies in the Corporations Act. This adds further complexity to the rules around disclosure that do not further the purpose of the transparency rules. As such, the government does not believe these proposed amendments are necessary and therefore shall not be supporting that particular set of amendments.
The government also does not support the amendments proposed in relation to the so-called grandfathering arrangements. This government does not support the removing of grandfathering of proprietary companies, which has been in place for decades. The grandfathering of these entities was a policy that had bipartisan support for decades because without it the new disclosure rules at the time could potentially disrupt commercial activities. The grandfathering of exempted proprietary companies was done to avoid disrupting businesses which would have established themselves under other business forms if they had known they would have additional compliance and reporting requirements which might be subsequently introduced.
The removal of the exemption for large exempt proprietary companies was considered in 2001 by the Parliamentary Joint Statutory Committee on Corporations and Securities and again in 2006 by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. The government does not support amending these rules on the fly as part of this critical piece of tax integrity legislation. This issue has been extensively considered in the past and decisions made to keep the current arrangements in place. The government therefore does not support this amendment either.
I want to speak very briefly to Senator Muir's amendments. In relation to the grandfathering clause amendment I do support that amendment. It is interesting to note that in the context of this debate the information about those so-called grandfathered companies that are able to have their information kept secret from the Australian public was only disclosed after the debate, and I think that it is appropriate that it became a live issue after that and that this is an appropriate bill in which to deal with this amendment.
I note that despite what the minister says there have been a number of views within the Public Service, as I understand, in the tax office and the Treasury. I will be corrected as to who actually said this, but my understanding is that there were concerns that the grandfathering arrangement was outdated and needed to be reformed, so I will support Senator Muir in relation to that amendment.
On reflection I will support Senator Muir in relation to his other amendment for small, private companies, because this applies to what are defined as not large proprietary companies. If a company fulfils two out of the three criteria—either less than $25 million in turnover, assets of less than $12½ million or fewer than 50 employees—I do not think it is unreasonable that they be exempt from that provision. The minister is right. We are doing things not in the most satisfactory of circumstances and doing things on the run, but I think that it is a worthy amendment, so I will be supporting both the amendments from Senator Muir.
I congratulate Senator Muir on his amendments. I appreciate we made a plea to him in a debate a while back and he responded admirably in grappling with challenging issues and put up some worthwhile and worthy amendments. I genuinely and sincerely congratulate him for responding to the debate. Labor will be supporting them.
Acting Deputy President—sorry, Deputy President. I did not mean to demote you.
The CHAIRMAN: Chair, actually, at the moment.
Chair—correct, yes. I just want to make it very clear that we support the principle of removing grandfathering, and it is very easy for the Labor Party to vote for this tonight when they have refused to publicly make a comment on this in the debate in recent weeks, but it will destroy this bill tonight, which is delivering an outcome on multinational tax avoidance. We support the principle and we congratulate Senator Muir for raising this issue, but we will not be supporting his amendment tonight.
The CHAIRMAN: I will put the question again so everyone is clear. The question is that the committee does not insist on amendment (1), with which the House has disagreed.
Question agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN: The next question—because we have split the questions—is that the committee does not insist on amendment (2), with which the House has disagreed.
At the end of the motion, add:
but agrees to the amendments (2) and (4), circulated in my name, on sheet 7836, which replaces amendment (2), with which the House has disagreed.
The Australian Greens circulated amendments—
(2) Schedule 1, page 7 (before line 10), before item 5 (after proposed item 4A), insert:
4B After section 3C
3CA Reporting of information by significant global entities
(1) This section applies to a corporate tax entity for an income year if:
(a) the entity is a significant global entity for the income year; and
(b) at the end of the income year, the entity is:
(i) an Australian resident; or
(ii) a foreign resident who operates an Australian permanent establishment (within the meaning of Part IVA of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936); and
(c) the entity does not lodge a general purpose financial statement for the financial year most closely corresponding to the income year:
(i) with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; and
(ii) within the time provided under subsection 319(3) of the Corporations Act 2001 for lodgement of a report for that financial year.
(2) A corporate tax entity to which this section applies for an income year must, on or before the day by which the entity is required to lodge its income tax return for the income year with the Commissioner, give to the Commissioner a general purpose financial statement for the financial year most closely corresponding to the income year.
Note: Section 286-75 in Schedule 1 provides an administrative penalty for breach of this subsection.
(3) The Commissioner must give a copy of the statement to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
(4) The giving of the copy to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission under subsection (3) is taken, for the purposes of the Corporations Act 2001, to be lodgement of the document with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Note: Under section 1274 of the Corporations Act 2001, a person may inspect, and require to be given a copy or extract of, any document lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
(5) For the purposes of this section, a general purpose financial statement in relation to an entity:
(a) must be prepared in accordance with:
(i) the accounting principles; or
(ii) if accounting principles do not apply in relation to the entity—commercially accepted principles relating to accounting; and
(b) if the entity is a member of a group of entities that are consolidated for accounting purposes as a single group—must relate to:
(i) the entity; or
(ii) the entity and some or all of the other members of the group.
(6) An expression used in this section that is also used in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 has the same meaning as in that Act.
(4) Schedule 1, page 7 (after line 21), at the end of the Schedule (after proposed item 6), add:
7 Application of amendment—item 4B
The amendment made by item 4B of this Schedule applies in relation to income years commencing on or after 1 July 2016.
We will be opposing. Senator Di Natale, I have a point of clarification. You have moved the motion:
At the end of the motion, add:
but agrees to the amendments (2) and (4), circulated in my name, on sheet 7836, which replaces amendment (2), with which the House has disagreed.
Is that what you have moved?
The CHAIRMAN: I can tell you the question before the chair at the moment is that Senator Di Natale's amendments (2) and (4) on sheet 7836, which replace amendment (2), with which the House has disagreed, be agreed.
Thank you. I am going to keep my remarks here very brief. I believe we have had a very long general discussion that has actually tackled a lot of the issues relating to these amendments. I want to make it clear to the Senate, however, what is about to go on here. This is the amendment moved in the name of Senator Di Natale which removes the amendments that had been earlier added to this legislation by the Greens and replaces them with what will be in our opinion—or, I think, a matter of fact—a watered down version in relation to the matter of the threshold but also in relation to the matter of the SP reporting.
Are these the amendments that relate to the threshold being changed from what was earlier $100 million and also the SP reporting, or is it jus the SP reporting?
I think you are confused. This relates to global entities. This in fact is absolutely consistent with the amendment that was put to the Senate previously. It requires multinationals with a turnover of over $1 billion to ensure that they file detailed general purpose accounts. This is an important amendment. It ensures greater transparency and it is the reason that this amendment has been put to this legislation.
To assist Senator Dastyari and the chamber: it is, of course, exactly as Senator Di Natale has just indicated. This amendment requires incorporated significant global entities with revenues above $1 billion to prepare general purpose accounts on a group or individual entity basis. General purpose accounts may be prepared on a grouped domestic basis or on a global grouped basis and general purpose accounts must be lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
The government, as we have said on the record for some time, believe that this bill, as it was introduced, is an important integrity measure. It is an important measure in the fight against multinational tax avoidance. We would have preferred if this bill had passed unamended, but, in order to facilitate the passage of this important piece of legislation tonight, the government have agreed not to oppose this amendment moved by Senator Di Natale.
I thank the minister for clarifying that. I think there is going to be a series of different amendments. I believe a lot of this confusion would have been avoided if these were amendments that we had not received on the day and we had had an opportunity to properly examine at an earlier point time.
My understanding is that this is the amendment that initially had been added to the legislation. It was proposed by Senator Xenophon when this bill first came to the Senate. The government has now taken the drafting of the Senate clerks and replaced it with wording that had been written by Treasury. There is a serious concern that those of us on this side of the chamber have that this is a watered down version of what was initially moved by Senator Xenophon. Unfortunately, getting to the bottom of the significance of the changes that have been proposed has not been an opportunity afforded to us, because this dirty deal was done last night and these are amendments that were shown to the House only a few hours ago. Because of that, the Labor Party cannot and does not have confidence. While some of the language may only have minor impacts, the concern is that some of it—particularly things relating to corporate tax entities being Australian residents or having Australian permanent establishments in order to file a general purpose financial statement—means that this amendment may not be able to capture firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft and major technology companies. These are big issues. These are big concerns. Frankly, we are concerned that, in the rush of drafting this amendment, we do not have confidence it has got it right.
I hope the Greens do realise that it actually puts off the reporting by almost three years because of the 2016 start date. It puts it off by almost three years because of the late period in which companies can start to report. But, I have to say, I have more faith in Senator Xenophon than I do in some of the government's and the ministerial drafting. I trust Senator Xenophon more, and, as such, the Labor Party will be voting to insist on the initial amendment as drafted by Senator Xenophon.
Just to be clear about this amendment, it ensures that, if you are a big multinational company with a turnover of $1 billion, you have to publish detailed financial general purpose accounts. This amendment ensures that companies like News Limited, Glencore, and the big pharma companies like Pfizer and so on all have to publish detailed financial accounts.
This ensures that we get those companies with a turnover of over $1 billion to publish detailed financial accounts. I have to say it is hugely disappointing to hear that the Labor Party are going to vote against an amendment which ensures that there is transparency around the financial accounts of those huge multinational companies. We have an opportunity here to support an amendment to the government's legislation that ensures that those companies with a billion dollar turnover publish detailed financial accounts.
So just to explain: at the moment, you can apply to the tax office to publish what is called a special purpose account. In simple terms, you do not have to outline your financial affairs in any detail. This amendment ensures that those huge multinational companies now have to file detailed accounts. They have to justify why they are paying so little tax. I am flabbergasted that we are now hearing from the Labor Party that they will not support that amendment. We are not talking about mum and dad who have the local milk bar; we are talking about companies like News Limited. Who would have thought that we would have an amendment that says to News Limited—
You're a fraud! You're watering it down!
The CHAIRMAN: Resume your seat, Senator Di Natale. Senator Dastyari, you will need to withdraw those remarks.
The CHAIRMAN: Again, I remind senators to be conscious of the words they use in this place.
Again, just as an example, we have News Limited, who, through the Senate inquiry, were outed as being major risk when it comes to the level of tax that they pay—or, indeed, do not pay. This amendment says that we are now going to ensure that you publish in detail your accounts so we can track your arrangements and make an assessment about what a fair level of tax should be, given the profits that you make. And we have the Labor Party saying to News Limited, 'No, we don't want to do that. We're going to let you off the hook.' I have to say it is remarkable that for the past three or four hours we have heard about how important tax transparency is to the Labor Party, and now they are going to vote against an amendment that enforces those companies—Pfizer, Glencore, News Limited—to disclose their accounts, and we are having a debate about whether the Labor Party should or should not support it! Now we hear that they are not going to.
What it says to me is that those words ring very hollow. All the huff, all the bluster and all of the rhetoric that we have heard for the past few hours have been exposed as nothing more than grandstanding, because we have an opportunity. We are in the parliament. Our words actually do not matter that much. What matters are our actions. And right now we have the opportunity with our vote, the most precious thing that we are given in this place, to support legislation that would force those companies with a billion dollar turnover to disclose their affairs, and we know what that means. We know that when you force companies—as we saw in the UK with the number of companies who were forced to disclose their affairs; it drastically changed their behaviour—they realise that, to have a social licence, it actually hurts their bottom line when they are paying an unfair level of tax. It removes their social licence. So now we have legislation that is going to do that to those multinationals based here in Australia, and the Labor Party are saying no.
It says to the Australian community that all the rhetoric we have heard for the last few hours is hollow and meaningless and this is all about grandstanding and not about outcomes. You have an opportunity to move from the sidelines into this debate and to support legislation that will ensure that those companies pay their fair share. I just urge the Labor Party, and, indeed, the crossbenchers, to support this amendment, because it will be a critical tool in the fight against multinational tax avoidance.
I was not going to speak again in this debate, but faced with blatant fabrications by Senator Di Natale I am forced to stand up and correct the record, so Hansard will show that Senator Di Natale has serially misled the chamber, because he is doing the filthy deal he did with the government to water down Senator Xenophon's amendments which he voted for a few weeks ago. Senator Di Natale is not strengthening a government bill; he is watering down amendments moved by Senator Xenophon that he supported two or three weeks ago. To stand in this chamber and try and pretend that he is delivering a stronger position than is already in this bill is a total fabrication, and you will and should be exposed for trying to perpetrate that untruth on this chamber. We will not let you pretend that you are not voting against amendments that you supported previously that are tougher than what you caved in and rolled over to the government for. That is the truth. You know it. Everybody else in this chamber knows it. Senator Cormann knows it. You have rolled over and you are weakening a bill before this chamber because of your filthy, slimy deal with the government. You are going to need a long hot shower tonight after your performance, because you are trying to pretend that you are toughening up a bill, when you are weakening a bill. You deserve to be exposed for it, Senator Di Natale.
I will speak to these amendments directly, but I think maybe what some of us need here is a long cold shower, rather than a long hot shower! It might wake us up.
There is my amendment that the Greens and the government say we should not insist upon, and there is an alternative amendment. I am going to be very boring here and just dispassionately go through these amendments very quickly in terms of what the key differences are. The two amendments are quite similar, but my amendment does include a reference to auditing, saying that a general purpose financial report must be prepared and audited, which is broader than the amendment moved by Senator Di Natale. The other key difference is that ASIC is the main reporting agency in respect of this in the Australian Greens amendment. They seem to be the two differences. There are some drafting differences, but those seem to be the substantial differences. If a company turns over $1 billion a year, if it is part of a subsidiary of a global giant, if it is a big pharmaceutical company— where Senator Dastyari had a wonderful expression; what was it, a trestle?
about how little pharmaceutical companies paid in tax—or if it is Google, Apple, Microsoft, all those companies, or a large Australian company, my understanding is that it will be picked up by this. That is just one question. If it is an Australian company that turns over $1 billion or more, unless it is solely based in Australia, my understanding is that the Australian Greens amendment will pick it up. My understanding is that my amendment would pick it up by virtue of the $1 billion threshold. They are the key differences. I will put some questions in relation to that. I do have a couple of questions to put to the government, because they will be responsible for enforcing this. These are technical questions. The Australian Greens amendment has no requirement for an audit as such, but my first question to the Minister for Finance is: will part 2M.3 of the Corporations Act apply in respect of a requirement for auditing? If it does, then that minimises the differences between the two amendments.
Senator Xenophon, I believe that I have, in essence, answered a similar question by you before. What I indicated to you before was that normal auditing rules will continue to apply, requiring auditors, of course, to conduct audits and to be rotated every five years, pursuant to the Corporations Act.
I am grateful to the minister for his answer. The other question is this. My understanding of my amendment was that it would apply to a company even if it did not have overseas activities, as long as it had a turnover of $1 billion or more. Does the agreement that the government will agree to, that it will support the Australian Greens amendment, only apply to a company that is multinational in its operation?
The question is not very accurately framed, but let me try and help you. This will apply to every circumstance where the global income of any company is $1 billion or more. It does not really matter where that income is generated, so I do not quite understand the distinction that you are trying to draw here.
Opposition senators interjecting—
No; I think the minister is trying to be genuinely helpful on this. If an Australian based company has a turnover of $1 billion or more and it does not have any overseas subsidiaries—it is based here—is that covered in the amendment that the government is supporting?
If 100 per cent of an Australian company's income is generated in Australia, then that 100 per cent of income generated in Australia is 100 per cent of their global income. What matters is, as soon as you generate more than $1 billion in global income, you get captured, even if all of that income is generated in Australia.
I just wanted to make it very clear, after Senator Conroy's rant, about what is one of the most substantial parts of the legislation we are dealing with here tonight, which is getting the application of general purpose accounting to significant global entities. We heard all the evidence in our Senate inquiry about the biggest potential tax avoiders, who may be getting away without paying their fair share of tax. They are the ones who are going to be required to meet this level of reporting. That is why this is so significant. I just want to get on record that the Greens have worked this afternoon—and I thank the minister and his staff here from Treasury, who have been very helpful in going through this in significant detail, with not just me and other people within the Greens but also Senator Xenophon and others—and we have looked at this very closely. As much as Labor have tried to pick holes in this, because it suits their argument, what we are seeing is not any weakening of Senator Xenophon's amendment. We have clarified some issues around Senator Xenophon's amendment, but we are convinced from what we have heard—
Yes, and Senator Xenophon did not exactly say that this has been significantly weakened or watered down, like you did, Senator Conroy or Senator Dastyari. He did not say that at all. Let us be very clear, to get this on record. This is a substantial part of this legislation. This is the key reason that we have put this legislation and why the Greens have supported this. It is a strong set of legislation and I just want to make sure that it is on record that what Senator Conroy said was not technically correct. In fact, it was not correct at all. It was a nice political attempt to slur, but we have gone through this in detail.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is that Senator Di Natale's amendments (2) and (4) on sheet 7836, which replace amendment (2) with which the House has disagreed, be agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN: The question now is that the motion, as amended, be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN: The question now is that the committee not insist on amendment (3) with which the House has disagreed.
At the end of the motion, add:
'but agrees to the amendment circulated in the name of Senator Dastyari on sheet 7831, which replaces amendment (3) with which the House has disagreed.'
Again, a lot of these points have been debated and covered quite extensively.
I could, and perhaps I will. But let's just be very, very clear about what this is. This amendment insists on the $100 million threshold. That is what the proposal that we are about to vote on is. So the question here is: will we insist on the amendment that had already been moved to this legislation, which was supported by a majority of this Senate, or will we not support an amendment that already had majority support?
The Greens voted for it. So we will now find out whether they will go against the amendment that they already voted for that set $100 million as the threshold. So that there is no confusion at all: there is an amendment and it has already been passed. The Greens have voted for it already. The amendment I am moving will insist on that amendment. So let's just see how they choose to vote on it.
The government does not support the amendment proposed by the Labor opposition. The government is committed to tax transparency, but the government will not go so far as to reveal taxpayer information for private companies under such low thresholds as Labor is proposing. The government is already taking action. We are implementing the G20 OECD base erosion and profit-shifting recommendations on country-by-country reporting and harmful tax practices to address multinational tax avoidance and the common reporting standard for the automatic exchange of financial account information to address taxpayer offshore tax evasion.
The government has also asked the Board of Taxation to work with business to develop a voluntary code for greater disclosure by companies of their tax information. The board is expected to finalise the code in early 2016. The government has also maintained the Australian Taxation Office's corporation tax transparency publication. The exclusion of certain private companies below a reasonable threshold 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. It also has no impact on the amount of tax paid by these companies under the law. The proposed public disclosure of taxpayer information will continue to apply to multinational enterprises operating in Australia and to Australian public companies.
Most of these issues have been very well ventilated throughout the day. I would just say that, if this amendment is supported, we get nothing. What the Labor Party is saying again is that if this amendment is supported companies like Transfield, private Australian companies, will not—
You have lost any sort of credibility. That is what you have lost. Bloody sell-out merchant.
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Di Natale, just resume your seat.
Opposition senators interjecting—
The CHAIRMAN: Senator Di Natale.
As I have tried to say on three or four consecutive occasions, by supporting this amendment we get nothing. Companies like News Limited will continue to be able to engage in their tax avoidance and it will not be published.
Companies like Transfield—
Opposition senators interjecting—
The CHAIRMAN: Order! Senator Di Natale, just resume your seat. I can at this point advise senators that I have cancelled my flight tonight. So I am in no hurry to finish this, but we will finish this with the Senate having some order. Senator Di Natale, you have the call.
By supporting this amendment, companies like Transfield will not have to declare the amount of tax that they pay. Companies like Ingham chicken, the largest donor on the grandfathered list to the ALP and the Liberal Party—so one of the Labor Party's donors—will not have to disclose the amount of tax that they pay. That is what happens if we support this amendment. What we have is an opportunity to continue—
Opposition senators interjecting—
The CHAIRMAN: Just resume your seat, Senator Di Natale.
He sat down before. He is sulking.
The CHAIRMAN: No; I had indicated to the senator that I wanted him to resume his seat.
No; he sat down before you said that.
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, before I said it but I had indicated to the senator to resume his seat. Senator Di Natale.
As I said, companies like News Limited, Pfizer and Pratt Holdings—another big donor to the Australian Labor Party—will all get off scot-free. We will get nothing. Ultimately, this is a question of whether you get 90 per cent of something or 100 per cent of nothing. What the Labor Party is saying right now is that they would prefer to have 100 per cent of nothing. They would prefer to have an issue to grandstand with in the lead-up to the next election. It is critical it is passed today because from 1 January next year we will get country-by-country reporting. That would not happen if this legislation were not passed today, and that is why it is so critical.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Ultimately, we believe that it is important to get some action on multinational tax avoidance rather than standing on the sidelines and grandstanding—that is the issue here. You have a choice. In this place you can grandstand from the sidelines or you can roll your sleeves up and actually get action on multinational tax avoidance, so that is what we have decided to do.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Ultimately, we have decided that in the interests of ensuring that we get those huge multinationals, those private companies—who currently do not have any requirements: none, zero, zip, nada, zilch—to declare the amount of tax that they pay, we believe that it is critical to pass this bill tonight. The Labor Party is saying, 'We don't want to do that. We don't want legislation on multinational tax avoidance. We don't want it. We want to stand here and grandstand and have the House decide to reject this legislation to give the coalition an opportunity to say, "Hang on, the Senate can't agree. You've given us an out."' We are not going to give them an out.
What we are going to do is support legislation that ensures that those big companies pay their fair share, and that is what we are doing right now. We are ensuring that, by rejecting this amendment, which was rejected already by the lower House—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Which means that nothing happens and that we do not get any legislation—nothing, zero! It is a choice: do you grandstand or do you take some action in this area. We think action is important, so we are rolling our sleeves up and we are ensuring that we get legislation tonight, and the passage of this amendment would sink that legislation.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is that Senator Dastyari's amendment on sheet 7831, which replaces amendment (3) with which the House has disagreed, be agreed to.
(1) Page 17 (after line 3), at the end of the Bill, add:
Schedule 5—Reporting of information about corporate tax entities
Taxation Administration Act 1953
1 Paragraphs 3C(1)(a) and (b)
Repeal the paragraphs, substitute:
(a) the entity has total income equal to or exceeding $100 million for the income year and, at the end of the income year:
(i) the entity is not an Australian resident that is a private company for the income year; or
(ii) the entity is a member of a wholly-owned group that has a foreign resident ultimate holding company; or
(iii) the percentage of foreign shareholding in the entity is greater than 50%; or
(b) the entity has total income equal to or exceeding $200 million for the income year and, at the end of the income year;
(i) the entity is an Australian resident that is a private company for the income year; and
(ii) the entity is a large proprietary company within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001.
2 After subsection 3C(3)
(3A) The Commissioner must ensure that the information made publicly available under subsection (2) includes:
(a) a statement to the effect that:
(i) the information may not reflect the full financial position of the entity; and
(ii) more comprehensive information may be available from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission; and
(b) the address for the part of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission's website via which the information referred to in subparagraph (a)(ii) may be found.
3 Application of amendments
The amendments made by this Schedule apply in relation to an entity for the 2013-14 income year and each later income year unless the Commissioner has, before the commencement of this Schedule, made publicly available information about the entity for the income year under subsection 3C(2) of the Taxation Administration Act 1953.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is that Senator Muir's amendment on sheet 7832, which replaces amendment (3), with which the House has disagreed, be agreed to.
I move the following amendment:
At the end of the motion, add: 'but agrees to amendments (1) and (3), circulated in my name on sheet 7836, which replaces amendment 3 with which the House has disagreed.'
Australian Greens circulated amendments—
(1) Schedule 1, page 7 (before line 10), before item 5, insert:
4A Paragraphs 3C(1)(a) and (b)
Repeal the paragraphs, substitute:
(a) the entity has total income equal to or exceeding $100 million for the income year and, at the end of the income year:
(i) the entity is not an Australian resident that is a private company for the income year; or
(ii) the entity is a member of a wholly-owned group that has a foreign resident ultimate holding company; or
(iii) the percentage of foreign shareholding in the entity is greater than 50%; or
(b) the entity has total income equal to or exceeding $200 million for the income year and, at the end of the income year, the entity is an Australian resident that is a private company for the income year.
(3) Schedule 1, page 7 (after line 21), at the end of the Schedule, add:
6 Application of amendment—item 4A
The amendment made by item 4A applies in relation to an entity for the 2013-14 income year and each later income year.
Again, there is no point at all in articulating the cases that have already been articulated, I think quite extensively, but I want to explain what it is that this amendment will be doing and why the Labor Party will be voting against this amendment. This is the amendment that will, in effect, replace what we have been insisting on—which is the $100 million threshold—with the $200 million threshold. This changes the question that is going to be before us. This is the sell-out. This is the cop-out. We have discussed the reasons why we will be opposing it. I just want to make it very clear that that is what this amendment does, and that is why the Labor Party will not be supporting it.
To clarify, this is an amendment that would mean that now 281 companies that do not have to disclose their tax affairs, Australian private companies—Transfield, Grocon, Inghams chicken, Pratt Holdings, Meriton and so on—now have to—
Well, 281 is bigger than zero, Senator Dastyari. If you think this amendment is meaningless, I think the fact that Senator Bernardi has already said that he will be crossing the floor and voting with the Labor Party tells you everything you need to know. The fact that Senator Bernardi came into this chamber a little earlier, stood up and said that he cannot in good faith support an amendment that means that 281 private companies now need to disclose their tax affairs tells you everything you need to know. So you will now have Senator Bernardi joining the Labor Party in shielding the tax affairs of 281 companies. How does it feel? How does it feel to be sitting on the benches next to Senator Bernardi, saying: 'We want to shield 281 companies from disclosing how much tax they pay'? There is a lot more that I could say, but we have ventilated all of the arguments. I think the most telling one is that, when you have the Labor Party and Senator Bernardi together, you do not need to say anything else.
I need to clarify the record here: 10 times today you have voted with Senator Bernardi. Ten times today you have voted with him. This is a deal that is so bad that even Senator Bernardi has issues with it. That is how bad it is. How low can you go?
The CHAIRMAN: The question is Senator Di Natale's amendments (1) and (3) on sheet 7836 be agreed to.
I move the amendment on sheet 7833, which is a further amendment to the bill consequential of the House's rejection of the Senate's amendments:
(1) Page 17 (after line 3), at the end of the Bill, add:
Part 1—Repeal of instrument
ASIC Corporations (Exempt Proprietary Companies) Instrument 2015/840
1 The whole of the instrument
Repeal the instrument.
Part 2—Grandfathered exemption
Corporations Act 2001
2 Subsection 1408(6) (table item 7)
Repeal the table item.
(1) This item applies to a company if, immediately before the commencement of this item, the company was exempted from complying with subsection 319(1) of the Corporations Act 2001 by the ASIC Corporations (Exempt Proprietary Companies) Instrument 2015/840.
(2) Despite the amendments made by Parts 1 and 2, that exemption continues to apply to the company in relation to the 2015-16 financial year.
I would like to add to the debate. I do not think Senator Muir has anything more to say. The rowdy debate today and the chaos which has descended on the chamber backs up my call for drug and alcohol testing in this parliament. That would be the first thing. The Senate had a chance to get rid of a loophole which allowed almost 1,500 companies to remain on a secret list, which did not have to report to ASIC. The Greens deal with the government today and the level of political donations by people on the secret tax list and from the Chinese government to Australian political parties show just how corrupt our political system is. It is disgusting, absolutely disgusting.
A royal commissioner has said that there is a grave threat to the power and authority of Australians, and today I think we are on the tip of the iceberg of why—Merry Christmas and goodbye to the chance for ordinary Australians, who do not make big political donations, having their voice heard and valued in this place today.
So, Senator Cormann, through the Chair, I would like to know: out of these people who are exempt, how many of them are your political donors, and how much do they give in donations to the Liberal Party? Let's go.
What I would say to Senator Lambie is that, truthfully, I do not know and I do not care. We determine public policy by what is in the public interest. What the government is doing here today is legislating a very robust multinational tax avoidance scheme which will ensure that multinational companies generating profits in Australia pay their fair share of tax in Australia.
This legislation, which hopefully will be passed tonight, will see the tax commissioner being given appropriate powers to be able to see through a whole range of contrived arrangements that are in place in relation to some of these companies from time to time.
So the bill in front of us today is a serious measure to combat multinational tax avoidance. These measures will force multinational companies with significant activities in Australia to pay their fair share of tax and level the playing field for all taxpayers. It will ensure that the Commissioner of Taxation can force multinationals that have significant activities in Australia to pay tax on profits from economic activities undertaken here. Multinationals will no longer be able to justify using contrived schemes to avoid paying tax.
This rule will strengthen our anti-avoidance rules for multinationals by catching arrangements that are designed to obtain both Australian and foreign tax benefits to stop companies claiming they are only seeking to avoid foreign tax and by lowering the purpose test from sole or dominant purpose to one of the principal purpose, making it easier to apply.
Where the scheme is captured, the Commissioner of Taxation will be able to look through the contrived scheme and apply the tax rules as if the multinational company had booked the profit from Australian sales here in Australia. Furthermore, penalties for larger companies that enter into tax avoidance or profit-shifting schemes will be doubled. This means that they will now pay tax on profits and they will pay more tax on profits, if they have sought to avoid paying tax.
Country-by-country reporting will require large multinationals to report additional information to the ATO. These are significant improvements in transparency that will help the ATO undertake targeted assessments of transfer-pricing risk.
Big companies were told nearly 20 years ago that they would get two or three years on these grandfather clauses. We are 20 years down, and nobody has the guts in this chamber to remove them because they are special. The Australian people want to know what makes these companies so special that they are exempt. You explain that to me and the Australian people now, because I want to hear it. I am looking forward to watching you tap-dance.
In the spirit of Christmas and of helpfulness, I have actually addressed this particular question before in response to the amendments flagged by Senator Muir.
The government does not support the amendments in relation to grandfathering arrangements. The government does not support the longstanding grandfathering of proprietary companies from complying with certain ASIC reporting requirements which have been considered extensively in the past. The grandfathering of these entities has been a policy that had bipartisan support for decades because, without it, the new disclosure rules at the time would have disrupted commercial activities. The grandfathering of exempted proprietary companies was done to avoid disrupting businesses which would have established themselves under other business forms, if they had known that they would have had additional compliance and reporting requirements which might be subsequently introduced.
The removal of the exemption for the large exempt proprietary companies was considered in 2001 by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Corporations and Securities and again in 2006 by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. The government does not support revisiting this issue on the fly as is suggested in this amendment. We want to move ahead and get on with legislating this critical piece of tax integrity legislation. This is an issue that has been extensively considered in the past, and we believe that the principle of not making these sorts of changes retrospectively is a very important principle that ought to be upheld.
I indicate that I will be supporting this amendment. There are 1500 companies that have been part of this grandfathering arrangement, so-called. My understanding is that Treasury looked into this back in 2006. It reported, I think, at the end of 2006-07. There was a media release, as I understand it, on the Treasury website that has now been removed. It no longer exists. It has disappeared from the website. I would like to find out what that release said.
My understanding is that it actually supported the removing of these amendments. Furthermore, ASIC in their submission to the Senate inquiry into multinational tax avoidance in February 2015—chaired by Senator Dastyari at the time—said that this particular exemption could be removed. They did not put up any obstacles towards its removal.
As far as this grandfathering amendment—these 1500 grandfathered companies—it is time these 1500 grandparents got a bit of sunshine. That is what I think we should do and why I support this amendment very strongly.
I did flag this earlier: Labor will be supporting this amendment. I think this is a timely measure. I think we have to be fairly honest and not pussyfoot around this issue. This has been a very vexed and difficult matter over many years. The 1500 companies we are talking about—these private companies—do represent some of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential Australians. This is a provision that was given initially on a temporary basis. I think it is the right time and the right move for it to be remove I think the community out there desperately wants more information and more transparency, and I believe it is difficult to explain why particular companies are treated one way simply because of a grandfathering that was initially designed as a temporary provision and are treated differently from other companies. I think the arguments fall flat, especially the transparency arguments or even the privacy arguments or the other arguments, when you realise that there are a certain number of companies that get this special treatment and nobody else gets that same treatment. It is the inconsistency that I believe is really at the heart of it.
I note that the list that was produced by ASIC—and I think The Guardian ran the entire list online—had on it one of the Prime Minister's companies, Turnbull and associates. The Prime Minister rightly contacted ASIC and had himself removed from the grandfather list. How that process is undertaken is really a matter for them. We will find out at estimates. I want to point out that, when you have a situation where it is such a bad look that even the Prime Minister himself realises that being on this list is so toxic that he has to remove himself immediately from being notified by the media that he is on this list, you have to question why 1,497 companies remain on that list. That is the 2011 list; a few people may have been moved since then.
I believe it is an important, timely matter. I believe there has previously been a lot of lobbying for the maintenance of these kinds of grandfathering exemptions. I think it is right for the Labor Party to be voting to remove the grandfathering provision. I believe that we did many, many great things in the area of disclosure and transparency in the last Labor government. Again, I have extensively gone through that in this chamber in previous speeches.
As I said earlier—and there are more senators here, so I want to say it again—I believe, Senator Muir, that this is a good amendment. This is an important measure. This is increased transparency. Perhaps, had you been in the last parliament and had the balance of power to help hold political and major parties to account as you are able to do in this parliament, you would have been able to improve some of that legislation, which was great legislation. These are the types of measures with which we would all have been better off had you brought them into the parliament. So I want to congratulate you for this amendment.
I have to say that the Greens political party have made it clear—and I raised this with them this morning—that they will not be supporting this amendment. I believe that is a real disappointment. The logic that has been presented both to me and in the media is this: 'Oh, that's okay. We can come back to this amendment. We can come back. There's nothing stopping the Senate having a private member's bill, and there's nothing stopping the Senate from passing this later.' That is absolutely baloney when you come to the reality.
Let us be clear about the leverage. The government's position, in fairness, has not been inconsistent on this front. They have actually been incredibly consistent. The government's position has been that they do not support grandfathering. What the government needed to get passed and wanted to get passed was the Joe Hockey legacy bill which we are debating today, which we are amending at the moment. As we have said repeatedly, it is not a bad piece of legislation; it just does not go anywhere near far enough. Adding grandfathering as part of the disclosure requirements would have simply improved that bill. Frankly, without the support of the Greens political party, it is unlikely that the amendment will pass in this chamber. The leverage to get that big change, to get that important change, to get these 1,497 companies in that disclosure, is about to be lost. On the idea that there could be some private member's bill and that we pass them all the time in this chamber: as senators know, we have great debates, and unfortunately we know where private members' bills go unless you have the leverage. The leverage was here. The leverage was attaching it to this bill, and the Greens sold it out.
I have to correct Senator Dastyari, as hesitant as I am to contribute to this debate at this late hour. Senator Dastyari suggested that grandfathering was introduced with the intention of it being temporary. That is just false. The grandfathering arrangements were introduced by the Keating government in 1995. If you want to make something temporary, either you give something delayed effect in the legislation or you have transitional arrangements. Grandfathering by definition is that you do not want a new piece of legislation to apply to those that had previous arrangements put in place under the previous legislation.
For example, in September 1985 the capital gains tax came into effect—also with Mr Keating as Treasurer and under the Hawke Labor government—and all pre-1985 assets were grandfathered. Now, I have not heard the Labor Party suggest that these grandfathering arrangements should have been changed, and of course they should not be changed, because it would be entirely unreasonable. When you make changes to the tax laws, in order for people to be able to have confidence in the system, in order for people to be able to plan their personal affairs with some certainty, people need to have confidence that, when government changes the rules on them, changes when it comes to tax arrangements are prospective changes.
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
Of course you change things prospectively, Senator Dastyari. But to suggest that it was the intention of the Keating Labor government for this to be a temporary—
An opposition senator interjecting—
Oh, so there was a review? A review? Well, in 1997, two years later, they just happened to be in opposition. If only they had stayed in government, it would have all been different! Well, why then did the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments not change it? Why then did the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments never touch it? This is just complete hypocrisy.
We know that Senator Dastyari has been able to make a lot of political hay for himself out of this whole issue. He is not interested in the outcome. Senator Di Natale is quite right. He is just interested in the headlines. He is interested in the colour and movement. He is interested in being able to jump up and down in front of the cameras. Senator Dastyari has no interest at all in actually achieving an outcome.
So what I would say here, Senator Dastyari, is: stop misleading the Senate. The grandfathering arrangement we are talking about here was put in place by the Keating government. It was kept in place by the Howard government. It was kept in place by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. And we do not believe that in the context of an important piece of legislation, given that this has been considered on a number of occasions, we should just, on the fly, make this sort of change. That is why we are not supporting this.
I have just a brief contribution here, just to follow on from Senator Cormann's comments about the issue of grandstanding and wanting a headline. I just stumbled across an article from Michael West. Michael West says of Sam Dastyari:
… before he had a laugh and conceded the outcome was not too bad.
So here we have Senator Dastyari, who has wasted the Senate's time for three hours with grandstanding and with the rhetoric around Labor standing up for battlers, and Michael West says Senator Dastyari says the outcome was not too bad. What it reflects is that the debate we have had for the past three hours has been nothing more than hollow, empty gestures. The result was not too bad. So what has all this been about, Senator Dastyari? Why have we wasted the Senate's time with these outrageous accusations when in your heart of hearts you know the outcome is not a bad one? It is not a bad outcome. So here we have an article from Michael West, who says the outcome is not too bad. We actually think it is better than that. We think it is a terrific outcome, because Australians for the first time will see some tax transparency from 281 companies like Transfield, like Grocon and like the Labor Party's donors Inghams chicken, Pratt Holdings and Meriton.
It is disappointing that we come to the eleventh hour and Michael West bells the cat. All the huff and the bluster, and this is an outcome that is 'not too bad'. We think it is better than that, but what has all this been about? What has it all been about if the outcome, in your words, Senator Dastyari, is 'not too bad'? Again, what we have is 90 per cent of something versus 100 per cent of nothing. We prefer to roll our sleeves up and get outcomes for the community, and you prefer to shout from the sidelines.
I think it is important to clarify this for the record. Let's be very clear. On the MAAL bill, I have said repeatedly in this chamber—I have congratulated Joe Hockey for the piece of legislation, and I have been very clear and have said this from the start and have spoken about this bill on perhaps 10 occasions now—that it is a bill worthy of support, but it can and should be improved. And there are measures that could have made the bill even better than what we will be voting on tonight. So we end up with a bad system. There is a government proposal to make it slightly better, and the MAAL bill does some good things. We have always said that as the Labor Party. Then this chamber moves a whole bunch of amendments that massively improve that legislation, and the Greens cut a last-minute deal to water it back again. So let's be clear: they cave in.
When they have the numbers. So can we have a better bill? Yes, there are things we could do to make it an even better bill. I want more transparency, more disclosure, more openness and more information. And the grandfathering amendment that is before us makes it an even better bill, and that is why it is worthy of support. We can make this bill better, we should make this bill better, and if we had stood firm we would have made this bill better. Is the MAAL bill a bad bill? Is it a bill that does not deserve support? No. Is the MAAL bill better than other proposals that have previously been put forward? It does the right thing, but we could have made it an even stronger bill. We could have made it a much better bill, and it is unfortunate that the weakness of Senator Di Natale, the patheticness of his position when it comes to these matters and his complete and utter desperation resulted in him actually going weak when he had the numbers. It must be amazing negotiating with Senator Di Natale. You negotiate with a bloke who starts with the numbers, he starts with the coalition—
Well put. He starts with the numbers on the position that he advocates for. He keeps the numbers. Then he folds. Is transparency better than no transparency? We have discussed this already, but what you have done, Senator Di Natale, is stopped it from being as good a bill as it could have been. You stopped it being as strong a bill as it could have been and you stopped it being able to achieve everything that it could have achieved because, Senator Di Natale—through the chair—you went weak, mate. You went weak.
So I think we have established one thing here, and that is that the Leader of the Greens has done a deal with the Liberal Party that about equates to a woman that is in her first trimester of pregnancy—because you have done about 30 per cent of a deal. You have done a crappy deal for Australians out there today and you should be ashamed of yourself. I can tell you what: I would like to see what Christine Milne has to say about this. This was her baby, and I will tell you what: you just blew it out of the water, babe! That is it. I will tell you that now.
The other thing that I have a problem with is that, when it comes to the upper house and the lower house in parliament, it is not run by parliamentarians. That has been made very loud and clear here this evening. These laws and their regulations are made by their political donors in here. So—through the chair—Senator Cormann, you will have no problem helping me call for a royal commission on political donations in the future.
On Senator Dastyari's passionate statement about how we could have actually had a deal here tonight, let's be very clear what we are talking about. He said we had the numbers as a Senate. We had the numbers for a political outcome, not for a policy outcome. There is a big difference between actually getting a bill passed into legislation and getting a political outcome that you can go and do a press conference on.
The point I wanted to make about grandfathering is that with companies over $200 million it does not matter if they are grandfathered; there are nearly 300 companies that will now have to disclose. It does not matter that you are grandfathered; you will still have to disclose that basic financial information that this bill outlines.
Let's be clear: Senator Muir initially put up this amendment around grandfathering not because he wanted to get rid of it; he did it because of a technicality. His original amendment going back to the first bill made it clear that he did not want people distorting the sensitive information. He did not want tabloids, greenies or whoever beating people up because of this information. And it was a sensible thing. He said: 'Let them go through and look at ASIC's accounts so they can actually get a clearer picture of all the information there.' Following that, he discovered that some companies do not file with ASIC, because they have this grandfather amendment. So he said, 'Well, if I'm going to stick to my principles here, every company has to have their info on the ASIC register.' That is where it has come from. It has not come from a desire to get rid of it per se.
I want to make it clear that, with the transparency that we have in place here for companies over $200 million, it does not matter if you are grandfathered or not; you will be on this list. If people want to know more about your financial affairs and they cannot find it, that is going to be a very good incentive to put your accounts on ASIC. This is the important factor that we are dealing with here. We are building momentum towards getting that transparency that we want in place. Do not ignore this fact: if you vote against this tonight, you are voting against having a version of the Bradbury legislation—or the kidnap bill or whatever you want to call it. We have at least got that tonight. Let's be very clear about that. And it does not matter if you have been grandfathered or not; you are going to have to put your information on there. So, we have actually delivered a very good result on this.
I do not really want to engage in a huge political point here. I note that Senator Whish-Wilson did say in his own press release this morning:
The Grandfathering provisions put in place by the Labor Party are unacceptable and today's result will help build momentum to consign them to the scrap heap.
There is a way of consigning them to the scrap heap, and that is how you are about to vote.
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
I think giving up is not the answer.
Senator Cormann, I want to slightly clarify my understanding of what initially happened with grandfathering. I do not know if it is worthy to go over some political matters here. My understanding is that it was a measure that was put in place in 1995. At the time, the PJC recommended a three-year sunset clause. Instead, a two-year review was undertaken. At the end of the two-year review, the Howard government, which was elected in 1996, chose not to remove it, and then the Labor government chose not to remove it either.
I am not making a partisan point, and you know all about dying in government! But I do want to go back to the overall point from Senator Muir here because this is an amendment from Senator Muir. I want to acknowledge the history of both major political parties and our resolve to tackle these kinds of issues. It has not been as strong as it should have been, and we are better off by having people like Senator Muir, who are able to hold our feet to the fire on some of these matters. Him having the balance of power on legislation like this has the potential to make this a better place and to push major political parties to make sometimes tough decisions that are sometimes easier for them not to make. I congratulate him on that and say again that the Greens will not be voting with us on this.
I believe Senator Whish-Wilson is quite genuine in his opposition to grandfathering. I believe he ideologically does believe it is the wrong thing. I share that view with him. But I believe he also—
I believe he got rolled by his own party, but that is a whole separate matter—and he was not in the meeting that did the deal that said he could not do it, but put all that aside. I do believe that it is misguided to believe that the momentum building in this will achieve that. I hold a different view. But we have articulated these cases all night, and going through those debates is not going to achieve anything.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Muir on sheet 7833 be agreed to.
The committee has considered message No. 494 from the House of Representatives relating to the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinationals Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015 and has resolved not to insist on the amendments with which the House has disagreed, but has agreed to four amendments in their place.