Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Taxation; Order for the Production of Documents
(1) That the Senate notes that—
(a) on 16 October 2018, the Senate ordered the Commissioner of Taxation to provide information (company names) to the Economics Legislation Committee related to designated financial entities that have lodged late, or not yet lodged, a corporate income tax return;
(b) on 5 November 2018, the Minister for Finance and the Public Service advanced a public interest immunity claim on the grounds that the disclosure of individual taxpayer information to the committee will harm the public interest by undermining public confidence in taxation laws and taxation administration;
(c) on 26 November 2018, the Senate categorically rejected this public interest immunity claim stating that:
(i) there are few circumstances in which a corporation can be of the view they are entitled to anonymity in circumstances where they have breached taxation law, and
(ii) disclosing the names of financial entities that have not complied with tax laws does not undermine taxation laws and taxation administration, but rather may serve to encourage compliance with taxation laws,
and ordered the Commissioner of Taxation to comply with the balance of the order agreed to by the Senate on 16 October 2018; and
(d) the Commissioner of Taxation has not complied with the order of the Senate.
(2) That the Senate orders the Commissioner of Taxation to provide the remaining documents, required by the order of 16 October 2018, to the Economics Legislation Committee by no later than 6 pm on 5 December 2018.
(3) That, on 6 December 2018, the Economics Legislation Committee report to the Senate, prior to government business being called on, whether the documents have been provided to the committee in accordance with paragraph (2).
(4) That the Senate cautions the Commissioner of Taxation that failure to comply with a lawful order of the Senate may be treated as a contempt.
The government opposes this motion. Taxpayers provide their information to the Australian tax office in the knowledge that its confidentiality is protected by law, except in a very limited number of specified circumstances. This motion will open the door to ever-present parliamentary speculation and inquiry into taxpayers' affairs. The Australian tax office can penalise taxpayers who do not lodge a return. The government has increased the penalties on large multinationals who do not lodge a return up to $525,000. Parliament enacted legislation prohibiting public disclosure of taxpayer information, recognising that disclosure of confidential information would be contrary to the public interest and would adversely impact ATO operations.
This motion is no longer about the substantive issue. What has happened here is the Senate has made an order, and the tax commissioner has had an opportunity to advance a public interest immunity claim. The Senate has considered that public interest immunity claim, and has decided the balance of the public interest lies in favour of compliance with the order. What is effectively happening here is the tax commissioner is saying no to the Senate after being issued with a lawful order, and that is not acceptable.