Greens blink on tax transparency and Australians pay the price - Sky PM Agenda





SUBJECT/S: Dodgy Liberal Party-Greens deal to water down tax transparency measures; Mal Brough.

DAVID LIPSON: Labor are fuming today over a deal the Government has struck with The Greens to get its multinational tax bill through the Parliament. It led to one member of the Coalition offering to 'take it outside', and other attractions –a lot of raised voices and gesticulations as well because Labor are not happy with this deal at all. To explain why, I'm joined by the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Thanks very much for your company this afternoon.


LIPSON: This deal, as well as forcing multinationals to disclose their tax arrangements, will also mean around 300 companies, big companies worth over $200 million in earnings a year, will have to disclose their tax arrangements. Why then is it a bad deal?

LEIGH: David, it's important to go through the history on this. If we go back to 2013, Labor put in place transparency laws that would have seen companies with turnover above $100 million have the ATO report on their tax paid. That information was set to flow in just a couple of weeks' time. The Greens supported that right up until a fortnight ago, but have now back flipped and raised the threshold to $200 million. What that means is that about two-thirds of the private companies whose tax would have been disclosed will now be kept secret. The Greens have done a deal with the Government for tax secrecy and Australians will pay the bill.

LIPSON: You say that it's a bad deal because it's not as good as it could have been, i.e. that instead of 900 companies having to disclose their tax arrangements, only 300 will. What about the pragmatism of politics, though? The art of the possible rather than the perfect – is that what The Greens have demonstrated here?

LEIGH: David, the Government's position was never viable. It was effectively holding its own multinational tax bill hostage – a bill that was supported across the Parliament. The Government was going to, I believe, have to fold on this and accept tax transparency. 

LIPSON: Why would they have folded? Why do you think they needed to fold?

LEIGH: Their position was simply unsustainable. Look, Australians want tax transparency, David –  

LIPSON: But why was it unsustainable? Sorry, just to flesh that out.

LEIGH: They were effectively arguing that their own multinational tax laws, due to start on 1 January 2016, could be put on the backburner in order to protect secrecy. When we say protect secrecy, we're talking about looking after their mates. We're talking about keeping the tax affairs of some of Australia's largest companies in the dark. Labor has always stood on the side of sunlight. The Greens did stand for that a couple of weeks ago – we had people like Peter Whish-Wilson in the Senate talking about the importance of a $100 million threshold. But unfortunately he, like the rest of us, has been sold out by this deal that the Greens leader Richard Di Natale has done with the Government. I think he's simply been played like a banjo.

LIPSON: Did Labor have any formal agreement with The Greens to take any particular course of action?

LEIGH: We were simply standing up for tax transparency as we have consistently done, and as many of the crossbenchers have done. Unfortunately The Greens have decided to fold on this. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised – it’s six years since The Greens folded and voted with the Liberals to block an emissions reduction scheme, voting down that carbon pollution reduction scheme. December seems to be the season for Greens backflips and for Greens doing deals with the Liberals against the interests of the Australian people. 

LIPSON: As you say, there have been a few deals that the Government has made with The Greens, does this show that The Greens are less obstructionist than the Labor Party in the Senate? 

LEIGH: Let's go through the December deals that The Greens do. They voted down the CPRS in 2009, leaving Australia's environment and our economy worse off. They voted to take the debt cap off a couple of years ago, which has effectively allowed the Government to double the deficit in the past 12 months. And now they've voted for tax secrecy over tax transparency. For all their talk of being excited about transparency, The Greens are now as much the party of tax secrecy as the Government. 

LIPSON: You say that but they have struck a deal that has meant that 300 companies have to disclose their tax arrangements, where before they didn't. You're right – it’s not as many as you wanted but it's a deal. It's something. Isn't that what the Australian people want? They want the Government and others to be able to achieve results, get things done. 

LEIGH: I think the Australian people are aware, David, that when you look at some of these large companies, one in five paid no tax last year. We know that with transparency comes better compliance. We know that sunlight and transparency improves the tax base. As a result of the deal The Greens have done today ordinary Australians will be paying higher taxes; all because of the new tax secrecy that the Liberals and Greens have overseen.   

LIPSON: Is there any hope in Labor that there may be another deal somewhere down the track to pick up the other 600 that you've mentioned? 

LEIGH: We'll continue to stand on the side of tax transparency, David. We've believed in that since 2013 when Wayne Swan and David Bradbury spearheaded through the tax transparency changes. We've been utterly consistent on this. The Greens too had been consistent on this up until just a few hours ago. This latest backflip will be deeply disappointing to many Greens supporters who would have liked to see The Greens vote in the Senate in accordance with their rhetoric. 

LIPSON: You say all of this and you back your convictions obviously, you sound very certain that the Government would have buckled on this. Had they not though, we would have been left with nothing. We would have had no companies actually disclosing their tax. Is this the better of the two options?

LEIGH: I'm firmly of the view, David, that the Government's position was unsustainable. I'm guessing there's plenty of people around Australia today who are thinking: let's invite Richard Di Natale over for a game of poker, he's the kind of opponent we'd like to be facing down.

LIPSON: Ok, I just want to turn to one of the other big stories today. Of course that is the continued pressure on Mal Brough, the Special Minister of State. Now, the Opposition again tried to censure him and was gagged – what is the new evidence presented today? Because I didn't see a whole lot presented today that was too different from yesterday – what is the new evidence today to back this, and why shouldn't the investigation be allowed to run its course?

LEIGH: Mr Brough has had to come into Parliament in order to correct his answers in the course of this week. He has been asked a direct question in exactly the terms he was asked on 60 Minutes, and he's given exactly the opposite response. We know that interviews subsequent to the Federal Court hearings Mr Brough gave not only the 60 Minutes interview but also a Brisbane radio interview in which he talked about asking James Ashby to procure copies of the Speaker's diary. That's pretty serious stuff; all the more so when you consider that he's the Special Minister of State and meant to be in charge of upholding ethical standards. I think it shows particularly poor judgement by the Prime Minister to have chosen Mal Brough for this position. 

LIPSON: Labor has now referred this to the Privileges Committee, what will that achieve?

LEIGH: We believe there are a range of questions for Mal Brough to answer. It has become increasingly clear that not just Mal Brough but also potentially Wyatt Roy, were involved in what appears to be a plot to try and bring down the former Speaker Peter Slipper. Asking somebody to procure the diary of the Speaker is a very serious charge indeed.

LIPSON: You spoke about playing poker before, I don't know if you're a betting man but do you think he'll still be on the frontbench at the end of this year? 

LEIGH: That will depend on the judgement of the Prime Minister. 

LIPSON: Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.

LEIGH: Thank you, David.



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