Havens bleeding the global tax system dry - Transcript, Doorstop

E&EO TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

TOWNSVILLE

WEDNESDAY, 1 MAY 2019

Subjects: Labor’s commitment to fund an ongoing tax clinic in Townsville, Eastern Australian Irrigation, Clive Palmer, Facebook and Google tax bills.

CATHY O’TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's really great to be here this morning with Dr Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, at James Cook University with Van as well. Andrew is going to talk to you this morning about a wonderful initiative that Labor has for a tax clinic. It will create an enormous opportunity for our students here to practice tax law. It will be with industry. It will be one of the best opportunities young people get to put their studies into practice and this is a valuable announcement for our community here in Townsville. And I'll just hand over to Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks, Cathy. There’s no more ferocious fighter for Townsville than Cathy O’Toole. She’s been arguing very strongly that James Cook University should receive this funding for an ongoing tax clinic. Labor's tax clinic policy was announced last year ahead of the government. It’s not for a set of trials - it's for ongoing funding, $150,000 apiece for ten tax clinics across Australia. We're delighted to announce that one of those tax clinics will be right here at James Cook University, headed by Van Le. 

Tax clinics are an important innovation. They ensure that low income taxpayers and small businesses have access to free tax advice. Millionaires and multinationals can easily pay high priced lawyers and accountants to navigate the tax system for them. But many low income Australians struggle to work out how to navigate the Tax Act. What tax clinics will do is provide this free assistance in the same way as community legal centres provide legal advice to those who can't afford it. I know in my own studies as a law student, working in Redfern Legal Centre and the ACT Welfare Rights Centre was an important part of my training and it will be here too for the students who are studying tax law to have an opportunity to work directly with clients. 

What’s tremendously exciting about this tax clinic is that Van is also proposing to take it to the regions, to allow students to see a greater range of those who are those in need tax assistance and to provide more tax help through this federally funded tax clinic - if a Shorten Government is elected. A tax clinic is an important step forward in making sure that all Australian taxpayers have access to the advice they need. I’m going to hand over now to Van to say a few words about the specifics of the tax clinic.

VAN LE, JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY: The tax clinic is a very important initiative for Townsville and the region of Townsville and at JCU we're very excited about it. The service will be available to unrepresented individuals, small businesses and not-for-profits. And we received the grant to establish this tax clinic at the end of March and it's great today that Andrew’s here to make that commitment for the tax clinic to continue for another four years. So with the tax clinic, we intend to take it mobile. Next year we’re going to it to Cairns, set up a branch in Cairns and then to the regional towns. We're going to go out there and be up there for a day or two, however the needs be to reach out to our regional centres. 

JOURNALIST: Sorry, what was was your last name?

LE: Van Le. I'm a law lecturer at JCU. 

JOURNALIST: Sorry, is something you've already [inaudible]

LE: Yes, we've received the grant at the end of March and we are setting up this tax clinic and it is to operate from the 1st of July onwards. 

JOURNALIST: And so where did that money come?

LE: From the current government. It will be on campus in the business and law building and we will have our students meeting up with clients and supervised by a local accounting firm, Coutts Redington, at the moment and in future as need be I'm sure that more accounting firms, local firms would volunteer their services as well. 

JOURNALIST: So how much funding do you have at the moment?

LE: A hundred thousand.

JOURNALIST: So Labor’s going to up that by 50 thousand?

LEIGH: Yes, that’s right. Labor would increase this funding by 50 per cent and would provide ongoing funding rather than one-off funding. We don't see tax clinics as something that need to be trialled, we see them as a successful model that should be supported on an ongoing basis. 

JOURNALIST: You said you’d do annually. Are you going to commit to a certain number of years to start with or is it just?

LEIGH:  We’re committed to ongoing funding. $150,000 a year for this important tax clinic.

JOURNALIST: Do people have to go through a certain process, or people with businesses have to go through a certain process to access this or do they just sort of rock up?

LEIGH: In general, people will come to tax clinics much as they do to community legal centres. But Van may want to say a few words about exactly how that will be done here.

LE: So we’ve got a website online where people can fill out a form for us to give them a call back and they can give us a call. And we are here to serve underrepresented individuals and established small business and not-for-profit, registered not-for-profit organisations. 

JOURNALIST: Sorry, another question. So if elected, you’ll commit $150,000 per year for as long as you are in power?

LEIGH: That’s right, yes.

JOURNALIST: Does create jobs as well or is it just the ones that are existing?

LEIGH: The $150,000 would be for an ongoing position, a person managing it. So yes, you could expect there’d be an employment impact. Let me make just make one additional comment on tax related matters. We've seen revelations yesterday that Google and Facebook have each received revenues of over a billion dollars a year from Australians. Yet their tax bills are just in the tens of millions. It's yet another example of the problems with Australia's tax system, where there seems to be a two class system - one for millionaires, billionaires and top end of town and the other one for regular Australians. The Cayman Islands aren't just the place where Eastern Australia Irrigation was set up. It’s also the place where Clive Palmer chose to register his private jet. We had a formal launch of the JCU tax clinic earlier this morning and I asked those in the room how many had most of their assets stashed in the Caymans. Got to say, not a hand went up. But the use of the Cayman Islands and other tax havens has become rampant and is bleeding the global tax system dry. Only Labor has a plan to crack down on multinational profit shifting. Only Labor will get tough on firms like Google and Facebook, which are used by millions of Australian customers. Yet they aren’t paying their fair share of tax right now. No other questions?

JOURNALIST: Cathy, we’ve seen jobs go from the tax office. Will this affect them, because essentially people can access this tax clinic for free?

O’TOOLE: Well, what we have experienced here in Townsville is 150 jobs gone from the Australian Tax Office here in Townsville, which is appalling. On top of that, a number of those jobs went from the superannuation area and Townsville has the highest unpaid or underpaid superannuation in Queensland, affecting over 22,000 people and over $53 million. This tax clinic will be extraordinarily helpful for people who have no representation, they can't afford to go to an accountant. They will be able to come to the clinic and get the help and support they need which one would hope would keep them out of any issues or problems that they may end up having quite incidentally with the Australian Tax Office. So it's a very important initiative for the people in our community - probably low income families and small businesses and not for profit sector where the cost of getting professional accountants’ advice is high. 

JOURNALIST: So you don't think like a free service like this would sort of take away from actual accountants?

O’TOOLE: No. No, we're talking about people who actually haven't got the money to afford an accountant. It's like Andrew said with community legal services and this is a wonderful experience for students under the supervision of professionals. I think that's the really important thing here. And James Cook will do a fine job in ensuring that those students get the best educational experience out of this possible.

LEIGH: Thanks everyone.

ENDS

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.