International Tax Agreements Amendment Bill - House of Representatives Wednesday 12 October, 2016

Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (19:16):  This is a government which is pretty strong when it comes to taking on the weak. If they are taking on the pensioners, those with disabilities or carers in the community, then they are pretty tough. But when it comes to taking on some of the biggest companies in the world, this government goes weak at the knees. For years they have been arguing against Labor's attempts to shut down multinational tax loopholes. When we said we wanted to close debt deduction loopholes and the Leader of the Opposition put together a carefully crafted package on debt deduction loopholes, where were they? Are they standing on the side of the little guy? No, they were standing on the side of multinationals.

Labor's worldwide gearing ratio policy, our policy on hybrid mismatches and our policy on tax transparency have followed on from the hard work that Labor did in government. In government, under the leadership of Wayne Swan and David Bradbury, we brought forward a $4 billion package to shut down multinational tax loopholes. What did those opposite do? Did they vote for it? No, they voted against it. This is a party which is always voting against strong action on multinational tax avoidance. And when it came to the last sitting of last year, what was the last thing they did before the House adjourned? Again, it was to shut down tax transparency for big firms. They took two out of three big firms out of the tax transparency net in another dodgy deal with the Australian Greens. The Australian Greens and the Liberal Party voted against tax transparency.

But now, finally, for the first time in Australian history, we have an opportunity for the government to come forth and explain why they have chosen to take this path. They have had a second reading amendment unanimously supported by this House which gives them an opportunity to explain their failings in multinational tax avoidance and to finally come into this House and fess up and say that they will add billions of dollars to the budget bottom line by backing Labor's plan. Labor's plan has been supported by academics and by experts in the OECD. Labor's plan is drawn from work in the Parliamentary Budget Office. Labor's plan tackles one of the core issues in tax fairness in Australia, which is that one in three big companies pay no tax. How do we know that? We know it thanks to Labor's tax transparency laws—laws that this government voted against when they were in opposition and watered down while they were in government. They now have a chance to explain their failings on tax transparency and to come up with policies which are not drawn up in those lofty boardrooms of Australia but are worked up with an eye to main street Australia, because it is main street Australia that recognises that multinational profit shifting is wrong.

But when this mob opposite stand up at conferences—they go to their industry conferences; we might hear a little more of it tonight in the Great Hall—they are in favour of the tax loophole. This is the party of the bottom-of-the-harbour scheme. This is the party that is still in favour of tax loopholes—tax loopholes that are not available to little businesses, tax loopholes that are not available to regular mums and dads, tax loopholes that are only available to the biggest companies in the world.

But now they have a chance to explain themselves. Now they have a chance to do that backflip which they so neatly performed on the second reading amendment. It was unexpected, but it was welcomed by those of us on this side of the House. I am sure it was welcomed by the Australian people, who want the coalition to finally stop playing a protection racket for some of the biggest companies in the world and start speaking out in favour of tax transparency and of tax fairness and saying that there is something wrong when one in four of the companies on the public register and one in three on the private register pay no tax. We have a tax commissioner who says our tax system is ‘under fire from the actions of multinationals and large companies seeking to abuse it’. If the tax system is under fire, it needs a government that will stand on the side of the little guy. They have that chance, and we will welcome the explanation that comes in this second reading amendment.


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