Labor's multinational tax plan a missed opportunity - Doorstop, Canberra

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2015

SUBJECT/S: Multinational tax; Tax transparency; Polls; Somali asylum-seeker case.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Today, the Government is going to be bringing into the Parliament its multinational tax Bill. This is a widely expected event; the multinational tax Bill was announced in the Budget. Unfortunately, according to the Government's own estimates, it doesn't raise any revenue. Where there should be significant revenue estimates, there's just a series of asterisks on p.14 of the Budget papers.

Labor will be supporting the Government's multinational tax Bill because we think any efforts to crack down on multinational tax avoidance are worthwhile. But we'd also urge the Government to look again at Labor's package, which raises $7.2 billion over the next decade; has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office; is inspired by work done at the OECD; and which tackles a different loophole from the one the Government is focusing on. I'm also very disappointed that last week the Government snuck through the Senate measures to reduce tax transparency. The last thing we need at the moment, when we're having a conversation about how to get multinationals to pay more tax, is to be putting up the secrecy shutters. But that's exactly what the Government did last Thursday. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Yet when Labor starts talking about Malcolm Turnbull and his tax arrangements, it blows up in your faces. What's happened there?

LEIGH: Our focus there was always on the use of tax havens. Tax havens have been identified by the OECD as one of the challenges in multinational tax avoidance and ensuring tax fairness. The Tax Justice Network has done work on the financial secrecy surrounding the Cayman Islands, and we believe it is important to crack down on what the Tax Commissioner has called a tax haven; that is, the Cayman Islands. 

JOURNALIST: There's a few million dollars that Malcolm Turnbull has tipped into there but a few billion from industry super funds. So that's having the bigger impact, isn't it? 

LEIGH: Our focus has always been on making sure that we have the right set of rules. We believe that if you're the Prime Minister of Australia, it's the wrong choice to be actively investing in a tax haven. 

JOURNALIST: But we're talking about the actual effect here – you said the focus is on tax havens. There might be a few millions in there which is bad optics for Malcolm Turnbull, but there's billions in there from industry super funds. So should that be looked at?

LEIGH: Well for example Australian Super, as I understand it, has made no active choice to invest in the Cayman Islands. Choosing specific vehicles which are located in the Cayman Islands is, I believe, the wrong approach for the Prime Minister. 

JOURNALIST: But it could make an active choice to not invest, couldn't it? To tell the fund managers: put the money where you want, make some cash, but don't put it in the Cayman Islands.

LEIGH: Our focus, through the G20 and through the OECD, has been to reduce the reliance on tax havens. They are not good for the global tax community. Making sure that when you're sitting around a table and having those international conversations about tax havens, that you're not yourself heavily invested in a tax haven, is important for an Australian Prime Minister. 

JOURNALIST: Yet despite these attacks Labor is now trailing the Coalition, with a significant jump in support for the Coalition. Surely it is time to change tactics 

LEIGH: [Laughs] This is a significant problem – I have been deeply concerned that people have a tendency to focus on a single poll. I do have a solution for you: my new book 'The Luck of Politics' has an entire chapter devoted to those who, like you, find themselves overly obsessed with a single poll. There's other alternatives: you can go 'poll turkey' as some have done; but you can also ease yourself off the poll drug more gradually. I'd encourage you to do it, because you'll find there are a rich array of policy conversations awaiting you just beyond the latest poll.

JOURNALIST: This so-called 'poll drug' actually brought about the downfall of a Prime Minister; it was largely the reason why people within the Coalition didn't want Tony Abbott to lead them any further. So it's not, perhaps, a drug that should be laughed at.

LEIGH: It was indeed, yes. It's very clear that the reason the Coalition chose to switch from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull was purely poll driven.

JOURNALIST: And what about the influence on replacing Julia Gillard as Prime Minister?

LEIGH: I'm happy to have a longer conversation about political history if you'd like to sit down for a coffee, but today let's focus on the main issues confronting us. We've got tax fairness, we've got superannuation governance. We'd like to see the Government stepping up to the plate with Labor's sensible proposals around superannuation; again, that’s a Parliamentary Budget Office-costed plan that would add $14 billion to the budget bottom line.

JOURNALIST: What can Bill Shorten do to boost his popularity?

LEIGH: Bill has been out there with idea after idea. We've been focusing on start-ups and providing an entrepreneur’s year for people leaving university; providing entrepreneurs visas for people to come into Australia; and encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in Australia. I'm delighted that Malcolm Turnbull is talking like a Labor member when he's out in the street; I only wish he'd vote like a Labor member when he's in the Senate. That would mean voting in favour of innovation rather than cutting the research and development tax credit; and voting in favour of tax transparency rather than greater secrecy.

JOURNALIST: Is that cutting through though, with Malcolm Turnbull's approval rating triple Bill Shorten's?

LEIGH: Well I'm a marathon runner rather than a sprinter and I believe this is a long conversation with the Australian people over the course of the next year. Labor has a suite of policy offerings, from our conversations around cities, multinational taxation, making sure that we have better opportunities for our students at universities through our higher education package. We're still yet to see the Government manage those conversations. We've got a strong suit of policy offerings and we'll be talking about them right up to the next election.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any thoughts on the Somali woman? There are some contradictions on what actually happened, whether she was brought here and then perhaps not offered medical treatment and counselling?

LEIGH: I’ve found this story gut wrenching to be watching. I am simply concerned about the level of secrecy that surrounds asylum seekers in Australia. I would like to see every effort made by Immigration Department officials to make sure that this woman, in such awful circumstances, is looked after.

JOURNALIST: And the transparency issue, that's a long-term one isn't it? Labor wasn’t exactly letting journos into these offshore detention centres to have a look around and report on the conditions?

LEIGH: Labor provided significantly more access to our asylum seeker facilities than this Government has done. We put in place a Children's Commissioner, for example, who had a direct remit to deal with asylum seeker issues as they related to children. And we provided additional resources to the UNHCR in order to facilitate refugee resettlement.

No other questions? Thanks everyone.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: JENNIFER RAYNER 0428 214 856


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