Tuesday, 20 June 2023
Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 4) Bill 2022; In Committee
GALLAGHER (—) (): I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill, which I think have been circulated.
I move amendment (2) on sheet PZ104:
(2) Schedule 7, page 119 (line 1) to page 120 (line 18), to be opposed.
This parliamentary amendment removes schedule 7 of the bill. Schedule 7 proposed to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to update the list of specifically listed deductible gift recipients. In order to ensure expedited passage of the measure to update the list of specifically listed deductible gift recipients, schedule 7 to the bill was reintroduced as schedule 1 to the Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 5) Bill 2022. As a result, schedule 7 no longer needs to be progressed as part of this bill.
The opposition will support this amendment, but only to correct the gross incompetence of the government's Assistant Treasurer in his coordination of this bill.
At the request of Senator Rice, I move amendment (1) on sheet 1831, standing in the name of Senator Rice:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 11 (after line 18), after subparagraph 378-25(7)(c)(i), insert:
(ia) a game that contains, or allows access to, a digital container of randomised virtual items that can be obtained for consideration (commonly known as a loot box);
McGRATH () (): I note this amendment is substantially the same as an amendment moved by the member for Clark in the House of Representatives. On the basis of an assurance of the government that was given in the House of Representatives, the coalition will be opposing this amendment.
The government will also be opposing this amendment. The key purpose of the DGTO is to promote the growth of the digital games industry in Australia and enhance the industry's international competitiveness. In our bill, games that are a gambling service, gambling or gambling like are already excluded.
I move opposition amendment (1) on sheets 1858:
(1) Schedule 2, page 32 (line 1) to page 35 (line 23), to be opposed.
As I foreshadowed in my contribution to the second reading debate, this amendment excises the section which deals with the taxation treatment of digital currencies. It does that on the basis that there is a separate process underway through the Board of Taxation and this would introduce unnecessary regulatory risk in a very sensitive area. It will also do it on the basis that it won't be removing any consumer protections or, indeed, driving any new innovation.
Of course, the Treasury itself could not even explain whether there would be a quantifiable gain or loss to revenue. So I think it's a reasonable amendment for the Senate to consider in light of the evidence from industry that this is not a concept that they support at this point in time because it has been cherrypicked out of a broader reform agenda which should be, frankly, a higher priority for the government, because I think all of us want the government to be promoting new investment, new ideas and new competition, and we also want our governments to be protecting consumers as far as possible. So we think it's an appropriate and proportionate amendment to this bill, on the basis that we'll come back and provide a set of regulations and laws for digital assets as part of a comprehensive agenda rather than something that's being cherrypicked out of nowhere.
We will be opposing this. Schedule 2 will provide taxpayers with clarity following El Salvador's decision to adopt bitcoin as legal tender from September 2021, which created uncertainty about the tax status of bitcoin in Australia. Schedule 2 should not be removed. It seeks to maintain the status quo in the taxation of transactions involving digital currency. Repealing schedule 2 would pose a revenue risk, as ongoing uncertainty could see taxpayers in similar situations adopting different tax treatments, with some deliberately choosing the most favourable interpretation.
This is one of those ones where I have to put the question in the affirmative. Even though the government are opposing what Senator Bragg wants, they will be voting yes and the opposition are voting no.
You're able to ask a question. I'm just clarifying. You can continue questions on this matter in committee. I haven't closed it off.
Because the measure is to keep the tax treatment the same, it is difficult to cost. I think we did go through this at estimates, so there is no update to what was covered—or it might have been another committee, but it's certainly been discussed.
Senator Bragg is right about it being an integrity measure, so that is the point of this amendment. I am advised that that decision by El Salvador has created uncertainty about the tax status of bitcoin in Australia and specifically whether it can be considered a foreign currency for tax purposes. This uncertainty could affect a large number of taxpayers. Over one million Australians are expected to report on crypto assets in their 2022-23 tax returns, and bitcoin is the most popular crypto asset in Australia.
The digital currency space is constantly evolving. We are confident that the legislation is broad enough to capture the digital currency it needs to. However, having a regulation-making power allows us to quickly deal with unforeseen circumstances—for example, if a country adopts digital currency that may not be captured by the proposed definition. The policy for the legislation is clear: digital currencies are not foreign currency for tax purposes.
Can those regulation-making powers be used in the future to determine that a particular asset is either an asset or a currency? How will that be used in the future? Will it be used to allocate, effectively, and define digital assets?
Yes, sure. My understanding, and I'll be corrected if I'm wrong, is that we believe the legislation is broad enough to capture the digital currency it needs. However, in the event that there is a similar situation to the one that has arisen, which has led to this amendment, then the regulation power would allow us to deal with that. It is, in a sense, an unforeseen circumstance that is yet to occur.
by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (5) on sheet 1859 together:
(1) Schedule 4, item 1, page 39 (after line 21), after subsection 328-445(3), insert:
Limit on deductions relating to training provide d by non-registered training providers
(3A) Despite subsections (1) to (3), the total of your deductions under this section for an income year in relation to expenditure that is not covered by subsection (3B) cannot exceed $20,000.
(3B) This subsection covers expenditure you incur for any of the training mentioned in section 328-450 provided by a particular provider if, at the time you incur the expenditure:
(a) the provider is a registered body of any of the following kinds:
(i) a registered higher education provider (within the meaning of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011);
(iii) a registered education and training organisation (within the meaning of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic.));
(iv) a registered training provider (within the meaning of the Vocational Education and Training Act 1996 (WA)); and
(b) if the provider is a registered body of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a)(ii), (iii) or (iv)—the training is within the provider's scope of registration for that kind of registered body.
(2) Schedule 4, item 1, page 40 (line 10), omit "(1)".
(3) Schedule 4, item 1, page 40 (lines 15 to 22), omit paragraph 328-450(1)(b).
(4) Schedule 4, item 1, page 40 (lines 31 and 32), omit the note, substitute:
Note: Paragraph (c) means this section will not apply to expenditure for training provided by you in house.
(5) Schedule 4, item 1, page 40 (line 33) to page 41 (line 11), omit subsection 328-450(2).
The government will be opposing this. The amendment would remove the requirement that training must be delivered by a registered provider to be eligible for the bonus deduction, and small business could claim a 20 per cent bonus deduction for expenditure on training delivered by a non-registered provider up to a maximum bonus deduction. The bonus deduction for expenditure on training delivered by registered training providers would remain uncapped. The Skills and Training Boost introduces the bonus 20 per cent tax deduction to support small business with annual turnover of less than $50 million to train and upskill employees using registered training providers. The registration requirement is an important safeguard that supports the quality and integrity of the training provider. It ensures that training that is eligible for the Skills and Training Boost is delivered by providers that are regulated and meet rigorous government standards. This approach is consistent with that proposed by the former government.
I move amendment (1) on sheet 1926:
(1) Schedule 5, item 1, page 46 (after line 4), after section 328-460, insert:
328-465 Additional technology investment boost deduction
Normal or late balancers deduction for 2023-24 income year
(1) You can deduct for the 2023-24 income year an amount that is equal to the sum of the lower of $20,000 and 20% of the total amount (which may be nil) of your expenditure to which subsection 328-470(1) applies.
Early balancers deduction for 2024-25 income year
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if your 2023-24 income year starts before 1 July 2023. Instead, you can deduct for your 2024-25 income year an amount that is equal to the sum of the lower of $20,000 and 20% of the total amount (which may be nil) of your expenditure to which subsection 328-470(1) applies.
These are bonus deductions under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997
(3) The Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 has effect as if this section and section 328-470 of this Act were provisions of Division 25 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.
(4) Sections 8-10 and 355-715 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 do not apply in relation to a deduction under this section.
328-470 What expenditure qualifies for the additional technology investment boost
(1) This subsection applies to an amount of expenditure if:
(a) you are a small business entity for the income year in which you incur the expenditure; and
(b) you incur the expenditure in the period starting on 1 July 2023 and ending on 30 June 2024; and
(c) you can deduct the amount of the expenditure under a provision of a taxation law (other than section 328-465 of this Act) whether or not in, or wholly in, the income year in which the expenditure was incurred; and
(d) you incur the expenditure wholly or substantiallyfor the purposes of your digital operations or digitising your operations; and
(e) the expenditure is on acquiring, or acquiring a right to use:
(i) a product covered by subsection (3), in circumstances where you did not use the product (or a different version of the product) in your operations before 1 July 2023; or
(ii) an upgrade, of a product covered by subsection (3) that you were already using in your operations, in circumstances where the upgrade includes one or more substantive additional product features that provide you with a new digital adaptation capability; and
(f) if the expenditure is on a depreciating asset:
(i) the only balancing adjustment events that occur for the asset at a time during the period referred to in paragraph (b) when you hold the asset occur because you stop holding the asset because of an event or circumstance referred to in subsection 40-365(2) (about involuntary disposals) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997; and
(ii) you start to use the asset, or have it installed ready for use for a taxable purpose, before 1 July 2024.
Working out whether you can deduct an amount of expenditure on a depreciating asset
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(c), in working out whether you can deduct an amount of expenditure on a depreciating asset, assume that:
(a) you will continue to hold the asset throughout its effective life; and
(b) throughout that effective life, you will use the asset for a taxable purpose to the same extent as you use it, or have it installed ready for use, for a taxable purpose in the income year in which you start to use it, or have it installed ready for use, for a taxable purpose.
(3) The following kinds of products are covered by this subsection:
(a) digital business management tools;
(b) digital accounting tools;
(c) website creation and/or management tools;
(d) e-commerce tools;
(e) digital end-to-end retail solutions tools;
(f) digital analytics tools;
(g) digital marketing tools;
(h) cybersecurity tools.
(4) To avoid doubt, subsection (1) does not apply to the following kinds of expenditure:
(a) salary or wage costs;
(b) capital works costs for which you can deduct an amount under Division 43 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997;
(c) financing costs, including interest, payments in the nature of interest and expenses of borrowing;
(d) training or education costs;
(e) expenditure that you incur that forms part of, or is included in, the cost of your trading stock.
Note: For deductions relating to training or education costs, see section 328-445.
I thank the government for bringing the Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 4) Bill, the TLAB4, before the Senate. I would like to talk about the amount of time that small business will have to make use of the Skills and Training Boost and the Technology Investment Boost. These are great measures for small businesses to help them digitise to drive genuine productivity among small businesses, but they have two weeks to make use of this funding. We're told that it will be backdated to March and small businesses can keep their receipts and claim it, but every small business we in my office have talked to has had no idea about this scheme. It seems that it won't have much effect, and, potentially, the only people to benefit from this will be the government's bottom line, given that there was money budgeted for it.
This amendment seeks to ensure that small businesses do have a year to digitise and claim some of that back on tax. This is incredibly important for our small businesses who are seeking to become more efficient, to increase productivity, and indeed we hear a lot about productivity from both sides of politics at the moment. I thank the former government for their work on this, targeting small businesses and ensuring that they are being supported in digitising and getting their systems up to speed. We know that a lot of small businesses are still doing it tough coming out of COVID. They are under pressure, so this amendment seeks to ensure that they do have 12 months to be able to use this measure.
Minister, I understand that the original cost of this measure was $1 billion. However, I had it recosted by the Parliamentary Budget Office, and the revised costing came in at $600 million. I'm wondering whether the government has recosted this measure over the course of the financial year.
My understanding is it hasn't been recosted. I think your question is about whether the existing measure has been recosted, and I think the answer to that is no. But I am advised that the extension for an additional year would have a cost impact of $650 million, so I think that aligns a bit with the costing you got from the PBO.
ator GALLAGHER (—) (): In answer to your question, the government will not be supporting it. I think it is important to acknowledge that the Technology Investment Boost as it stands is backdated to 29 March 2022, which does mean that any eligible expenditure from that date will count when tax returns are lodged from 1 July. There are a range of other small-business measures acknowledging the importance of small business across our economy, which have been introduced in the latest budget, including the Small Business Energy Incentive, cash flow through the $20,000 instant asset write-off, the Cyber Wardens program and an industry growth plan that will help small businesses to innovate, adopt, and adapt to digital technology specifically, and that is in the order of $393.4 million in addition to this measure.
ator DAVID POCOCK () (): Given that I haven't been able to find a small business in Canberra that has been aware of this measure, I was wondering if the government had created a strategy to actually inform small businesses of it. Given that most small-business owners are flat out at the best of times, was there a strategy developed? Which stakeholders were engaged in that strategy to actually inform small businesses that there was this incentive to drive productivity?
My understanding is that advice about this program has been on the ATO website all year in anticipation of this measure being passed, which is the normal way that these types of incentives would be advertised.
Minister, how is it driving productivity to give small businesses two weeks of this being valid—being passed by parliament—and then saying, 'It's backdated to March, so, if you did happen to spend something, you can claim it back'? You're simply rewarding people who have done something, rather than actually incentivising small businesses to digitise and to spend money on things like cybersecurity.
I've gone through the additional measures that we have put in place, and I would say that this was a measure that we picked up from the former government in their March budget of, I think, last year. At the time that this was reintroduced post the commencement of this parliament, we didn't have the support to get TLAB 4 through for a variety of reasons—not related to this measure, specifically, but for other reasons. Ideally this bill would have passed the parliament earlier than now, but the reality is that most businesses, when they're doing their tax—and most businesses I deal with—are used to dealing with, essentially, claiming for expenditure that has occurred over the previous financial year. I don't think that is unusual. But I am not stepping away from the fact that, ideally, this measure would have passed through the TLAB earlier if we'd had the support.
I would say that we look at that in every update, whether it be MYEFO or the budget. We are always looking at what happens in specific programs and how we can support small business. That's the work that Minister Collins does. She will continue to do that and to consult with small business, which is why we have the instant asset write-off, the industry growth plan about digital technology, the Cyber Wardens program—again, at the request of COSBOA—and the small business energy incentives. These are all measures that have been sought, and argued for, by small business.
Just to follow-up on that, Senator, there is a $400 million saving here that the government will probably pick up due to the way that this has come through parliament. Can the government commit to actually investing that in small businesses and ensuring that we are driving productivity? We've seen the Reserve Bank governor raise concerns about productivity. It seems like this is money that has already been committed in the budget that could go towards that.
I'm not sure where your $400 million of savings comes from. We won't know the impact of this measure until all those tax returns are put through, because it's essentially revenue forgone. It's not a funded budget measure in the sense of appropriating cash for it. You've got a costing from the PBO. I haven't seen it, but I don't think there's any understanding or expectation that there is a $400 million underspend. We won't know that for some time. And I remind senators that those other measures that we have put in place are designed for small business and are implemented through this budget as well, in addition to this measure. This is over and above.
Just to clarify, my understanding is that the original cost of this measure was a billion dollars. We've had it—given the shorter time frame—costed by the PBO at $600 million. You've said $650 million, so it seems like there will be $350 million to $400 million left that could go to small businesses. I'd argue that it should go there, given the importance of small businesses to our economy.
The coalition will support this amendment. Driving digital uptake in small businesses is a crucial productivity measure. The government's failure to legislate this measure in a timely fashion has had a chill on investment and left small business with enormous uncertainty about whether they can make these investments. The ATO website currently actively discourages the use of this measure, stating:
These measures are not yet law. You cannot claim the boosts until the law is enacted.
This amendment goes a long way to addressing the government's inaction on this measure.
I move opposition amendment (3) on sheet 1852:
Schedule 8, page 121 (line 1) to page 122 (line 2), to be opposed.
This schedule modifies the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act to enable the CEFC to receive additional funds to implement Rewiring the Nation, establish the Powering Australia Technology Fund and streamline the ability of the government to provide the CEFC with additional funds in the future. The explanatory memorandum clarifies that this is an $11 billion allocation of funding with an additional $1 billion going to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water to fund projects that would not meet the CEFC criteria. A remaining $8 billion will be credited to CEFC at a later date to meet the $20 billion election commitment. However, Labor has not identified what these projects would be.
Critically, the schedule also amends several operational provisions of the CEFC Act. The legislation removes requirements for the government to legislate additional funding for the CEFC, allowing them to create additional accounts within the CEFC simply by general appropriations. The coalition has concerns about this schedule. There are billions in spending for transmission projects that have not been recommended by the energy operator and a hidden $1 billion fund for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water to circumvent the independent CEFC process. However, following the Economics Legislation Committee's review of this legislation and recommendations on this schedule, the opposition is seeking to remove this schedule to ensure that the parliament continues to have oversight of the funding mechanisms for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
The government will be opposing this amendment. The Treasury laws amendment bill is crucial, and this amendment is crucial to providing additional capital to the CEFC to implement our Rewiring the Nation fund. Accelerating the uptake of cheaper, cleaner and more reliable electricity helps us to lower energy bills and reduce our emissions. That's why we are investing in critical transmission projects across Australia through the Rewiring the Nation fund.
The CEFC has been highly successful in bringing forward clean energy investment over the past 10 years, despite attempts to abolish the organisation. Over that period, the CEFC has invested with a lifetime transaction value of $42.8 billion, with $11.7 billion of lifetime commitments achieving leverage of $2.62 for every dollar invested. The CEFC needs the additional capital in this bill to invest in the first round of Rewiring the Nation investments that are coming to a financial close in the coming months, and the transmission is critical to the energy transformation. It will enable more renewables and storage to be connected to the grid, driving down energy prices. Rewiring the Nation will provide that $20 billion in low-cost finance to upgrade, expand and modernise our grids. It will lower the cost of new transmission projects and accelerate delivery, and we are working to co-invest with state and territory governments in these projects. Individual investment decisions will be made by the CEFC in accordance with its statutory independence and its Investment Mandate.
I'll just note that I can't move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 1852 until tomorrow after we resolve that particular division that has been deferred.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: That's correct, because it's contingent on the first one.