Tuesday, 14 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Cormann, the Minister representing the Treasurer. On 30 May at Senate estimates I asked the ATO whether Goldman Sachs Australia entities had filed a tax return between 2000 and 2012. I did so on the basis of information I had with good provenance that suggests that they had not for a large part of that period. The ATO refused to answer the question. There's a motion on today's Notice Paper dealing with that refusal.
The tax commissioner is an independent statutory authority, so his views on this don't necessarily reflect those of the government. Is the government of the view that the tax commissioner should protect financial sector entities that have not complied with tax laws or should a legal tax conduct extinguish the privacy rights of a company?
Obviously I can't confirm or deny the assertion that is made in relation to the conduct that Senator Patrick is asserting there. The tax commissioner is an independent statutory officer, as Senator Patrick rightly points out, and he has the responsibility to enforce our tax laws independently and consistent with our laws. It's not a matter of opinion of the government. The government supports the fact that the commissioner, as an independent statutory office holder, must comply with our tax laws. He has pointed out very clearly in his answer to Senator Patrick:
Tax return lodgement information of the kind sought is 'protected information' under taxation confidentiality laws in division 355 of Schedule 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953. Provision of this information will harm the public interest by undermining:
- the principles and application of the taxation confidentiality laws
- the taxation self-assessment system
- the Commissioner's administration of the taxation system as a statutory officer independent from government.
What you are asking for, in seeking the disclosure of protected information, in the tax commissioner's view, would undermine the principles and application of our taxation confidentiality laws which have been enacted by this parliament. It would further undermine the taxation commissioner's administration of the taxation system as a statutory officer independent of the government.
Taxpayers provide their information to the Australian Taxation Office in the knowledge that its confidentiality is protected by law, except in very limited and specified circumstances. The Australian Taxation Office has the necessary powers and expertise to ensure that those that should pay tax in Australia are paying tax, that they are paying the right amount of tax and that they're penalised appropriately if they're not. The Senate has by convention respected Australia's tax confidentiality laws and allowed the Australian Taxation Office to fulfil its legislative obligations. (Time expired)
Thank you, Senator Cormann, although I note you simply read the tax office's answer to the question. I was wondering what the government's view might have been. In answering that question, did the tax commissioner or his office seek advice from either the Treasury or the Prime Minister's office as to how to respond? If so, could you elaborate on the nature of the discussion?
In the time available to me to provide a response to this question, I've been able to ascertain that the tax commissioner did not seek advice on his answer either from the Prime Minister's office or the Treasurer's office. In relation to the Treasury, I'll take that on notice. I would just say that, adding to my first answer, I did very clearly spell out that the government supports the tax commissioner in his independent judgement, as an independent statutory officer, to enforce compliance with our tax laws as he sees fit in his judgement.
Noting that I'm referring to Goldman Sachs's tax affairs from 2000-12, and that ASIC records show that the Prime Minister was a managing director and local agent of some of Goldman Sachs's related entities during that period, would either you or the Prime Minister be prepared to make a statement to the effect that the Prime Minister is satisfied that, whilst he was at the helm of those companies, they complied with all taxation laws?
The judgement on compliance with taxation laws is one that is exercised independently, as is appropriate, by the tax commissioner. I will refer this question to the Prime Minister, to the extent that it relates to him, to see whether he has anything to add to that answer. But let me also make the point that, as part of the Turnbull government's strong action on corporate tax avoidance, we introduced a new transparency code to ensure greater tax transparency by large companies. The tax transparency code is a set of principles and minimum standards to guide medium and large businesses on public disclosure of tax information. It was developed by the Board of Taxation and adopted by the government in the 2016-17 budget. Under the Tax Transparency Code, the ATO is mandated to publish tax information for large companies—that is, public and foreign companies—that earn more than $100 million a year gross and Australian private companies that earn more than $200 million a year gross. For each of these companies, the ATO publishes the total income as reported in the tax return— (Time expired)