Australia's stance on tax avoidance out of step

This morning I've got a joint op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald with Bill Shorten, explaining why the government is going the wrong way on tackling multinational profit shifting. It follows on from the very useful tax round table I convened at Parliament House this week to generate some new ideas on what else Australia can do to ensure companies are paying their fair share. 

Australia's stance on tax avoidance out of step, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November

The "Double Irish Dutch sandwich" sounds like something questionable you'd find on the menu at backpacker-run cafe.

But it's actually a notorious tax loophole in Ireland which allows huge multinational companies to get away with paying tiny amounts of tax through shifting money between multiple countries. For almost 30 years, some big global firms - including companies operating in Australia - have been using this loophole to pay tiny amounts of tax.

So while ordinary people are expected to pay their fair share of tax every year, some companies earning billions of dollars can get away with hardly paying a cent.

In Ireland, they are finally seeing sense and closing this loophole. Unfortunately, Australia is going in the opposite direction. While other countries are their closing their tax minimisation loopholes, the Abbott government has spent the past year opening them up.  

One of Treasurer Joe Hockey's first acts in office was to roll back Labor's measures to tackle profit shifting and improving tax transparency - effectively handing back $1.1 billion to big global firms. That's money that could have gone to helping struggling families with cost of living pressures, or improving our schools and hospitals. 

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Royal Commissions and renewable energy - Lateline, 31 October

At the end of a very busy two weeks of Parliamentary sittings, I joined Emma Alberici on Lateline to look at where we're up to on the national security and renewable energy legislation, as well as point out what's wrong with the government's anti-red tape crusade. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into unions; national security; red tape; Renewable Energy Target

EMMA ALBERICI: The week began with Tony Abbott calling for a mature and sensible debate about the GST, but that's almost where that conversation ended. It was drowned out by the fuel tax, climate policy and national security. Joining me to discuss a busy week in federal politics from Melbourne, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, and in Canberra we have the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh.Gentlemen, welcome to what I'm confident will be a very mature debate.



ALBERICI: So, Julia Gillard has been cleared of all wrongdoing. Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission says she has committed no crime. Josh Frydenberg, what's your reaction?

FRYDENBERG: Well this is a preliminary submission from Counsel Assisting, so I don't want to get into a running commentary, Emma, on individual cases other than to say that what the commission has found so far is there are examples of thuggery, intimidation, physical violence, threats, secondary boycotts...

ALBERICI: But specifically, when we're talking about the former Prime Minister, it should end there?

FRYDENBERG: Well I've never thought that this Royal Commission has been about Julia Gillard. It's a much more systemic problem within the union movement and in particular some of those construction unions and that is why the Prime Minister has announced today with Denis Napthine this combined Federal Police-Victorian Police taskforce because there are very serious issues. And it has to be pointed out that the Commissioner, Justice Heydon, wrote to the Prime Minister very recently and indicated that there were serious problems and that they needed to be dealt with and that there were powers that the police had that the Royal Commission didn't have and that's why the Prime Minister has acted now when he has.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh?

LEIGH: Emma, I think it's good that we've finally got tonight the bottom of Julia Gillard's renovations last century, and not surprisingly, the Royal Commission's found that Julia Gillard didn't commit any criminal acts and wasn't aware of any criminal acts. And in those circumstances, I think it might be appropriate for someone like Julie Bishop, who had accused Julia Gillard of criminality, now to issue a formal apology.

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Better tax transparency under Labor

Transparency is critical when it comes to tackling multinational profit shifting. That's why I've announced we'll bring forward plans to have the Australian Tax Office release more data about how much tax companies pay, and do it sooner. Here's the details:



Labor will introduce a Private Member’s Bill to give Australians access to more information than ever before about the tax affairs of major corporations.

If enacted, this bill will bring forward the release of data about the tax paid by companies with total income over $100 million.

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Fuel tax increase another regressive move

Following word that the Abbott Government is going ahead with plans to increase the fuel excise tax, I joined David Speers on Sky PM Agenda to explain why Labor can't support yet another regressive move which will hit to poorest hardest.







SUBJECT/S: fuel excise tax slug; Tony Abbott’s plans to raise the GST; Rupert Murdoch’s comments on inequality

DAVID SPEERS: Well the main political story here in Canberra today has been the Government's surprise announcement that it's going to go ahead with an increase in fuel excise even though it's been unable to get this through Parliament. How's it doing it? Well it's changing the tariff. It then has 12 months in which it needs to legislate that. So for 12 months it can collect the higher tax – it will go up from 38.1 to 38.6 cents, half a cent a litre. It will cost, the Government says, the typical family using about 50 litres of fuel a week only 40 cents a week in additional cost. Over time, of course, that will go up. Labor is still opposed to the increase in the fuel excise, however it's done. Joining me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Thank you for your time.


SPEERS: Why is this such a bad idea, to put up fuel excise by a tiny amount?

LEIGH: Well it's another measure that hits the poor the most, David. We've had a big rise in inequality over the last generation, the most regressive budget we've ever seen brought down, which smashes the poor while including giveaways to the most affluent. And now another measure which we know will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest, because in fact Joe Hockey is wrong when he says the poor don't drive. If you look at fuel as a share of income, it's six per cent of disposable income for the poorest fifth, and just two per cent for the top fifth. So an increase in fuel taxes is a regressive tax and that deeply concerns us.

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Protecting our egalitarian federation

Tony Abbott has announced that he wants to radically alter the relationship between the federal government and Australia's states and territories. In response, I held a press conference outlining why Labor will never back proposals which alter the egalitarian character of our federation.





SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s plan to increase the GST; boat turnbacks; Abbott Government inaction on Ebola; flawed Direct Action climate plan 

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Over the weekend we saw Tony Abbott give a speech on federalism in which he resorted to coded language rather than being straight up with Australians. He talked about increasing the indirect tax burden and raising states' revenue capacity. Let's be honest: when you talk about indirect taxes, you're talking about wine taxes, fuel taxes, car taxes and the GST. What Tony Abbott wants to do ought to cause the hairs on the back of Australians' necks to stand up. Because after bringing down the most regressive budget in Australian history, he now wants to raise the GST. Mr Abbott very clearly wants to engage in the same sort of cheap politics that he did last year. He wants to pretend to Australians that he can deliver better services and not put in place tax increases. But federalism isn't a magic pudding. To the extent that Mr Abbott is promising more payments to one state, that's got to involve taking away from other states. Federalism is a fundamentally egalitarian institution, and Labor is going to work to prevent more unfair cuts being put in place through the excuse of a federalism review. Happy to take questions. 

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Red tape ritual doesn't help

The Abbott Government is holding it's second Red Tape Repeal Day this week. But don't believe their hype - if it's anything like the first one back in May, their changes won't amount to much.

Red tape ritual doesn't help, The Australian, 27 October

This week the Abbott government will hold its second red tape repeal day. Since the first one just six months ago, it has passed more than 690 regulations. But then, defining red tape is a little bit like defining art — people know it when they see it, and they often see it very differently.

When the government held its first repeal day, parliamentary secretary Josh Frydenberg crowed about liberating Australians from thousands of items of costly and unnecessary regulation. On closer inspection, that included 39 individual amendments changing the term “electronic mail” to “email”, and several hundred amendments adjusting spelling, grammar and punctuation. It also encompassed the repeal of business obstacles such as the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1927, the Lighthouses Act 1949 and the Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Act 1969.

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Defending the RET - RN Drive with Waleed Aly

ON the day that Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced his government would slash the Renewable Energy Target by 40 per cent, I joined Waleed Aly on Radio National's Drive program to defend this important environmental and economic initiative.





WALEED ALY: You know when you've just given birth to a newborn baby, or your partner has, and you cradle it, and you look at it lovingly this way that says there's nothing more beautiful in the world than this at the moment, or indeed henceforth there will never be anything quite so beautiful? Well, I think today Greg Hunt had exactly that moment as the Environment Minister, when he was gazing adoringly at a 5.1 per cent drop in electricity prices. It's a beautiful set of numbers, Paul Keating might have said, and here he is talking about it in Question Time.

GREG HUNT: At 11 am today the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced the largest quarterly fall in electricity prices in Australian history. The largest quarterly fall in the 34 years of records from which statistics had been kept. And so it is likely that it isn't just a 34 year record, it's likely that it's a record which stretches back to the Second World War. Maybe stretches back further.

ALY: So is that just a payoff from axing the carbon tax? We'll ask our regular number gazers. Josh Frydenberg joins us as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Gentlemen, welcome again.



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Flower power

One of the fun parts of this job is getting to contribute a regular column to The Chronicle. Here's my latest...

Flower power, The Chronicle, 7 October

In 1637, Dutch tulip mania was at its peak. In that year, a single bulb could trade for 10 times the average wage. History records a bulb exchanged for 12 acres of land. One unfortunate sailor was jailed when he mistook a tulip bulb for an onion and ate it.

As an economist, I can’t help thinking of this story when I walk through Floriade each year. While the Dutch tulip bubble burst after a few years, Floriade is now in its 27th year. But the same intensely coloured flower that drew speculators to part with fortunes centuries ago now draws over 400,000 people to Canberra to enjoy the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest spring festival. 

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Charities commission saves not-for-profits millions

The Senate Estimates process always throws up interesting tidbits. Last night we found out just how much the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission saves charities each year by streamlining their regulatory and reporting requirements.



The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is saving Australian charities $120 million a year by reducing compliance costs, according to evidence given in Estimates.

During last night’s Senate Economics Committee hearings, Charities Commissioner Susan Pascoe confirmed that her organisation cuts red tape for charities, freeing up millions of donor dollars.

Ms Pascoe gave evidence that the commission achieves this by offering a one-stop-shop for registration and reporting, as well as providing a framework for harmonising charity laws across Australia.

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Gough Whitlam's economic legacy

In memorialising Gough Whitlam, I think it's important to reflect on his economic legacy as well as his political and social policy ones. In an interview for The Australian's website, I explored the key economic achievements of the Whitlam years; here's the transcript.





SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam’s economic legacy

JACKSON HEWETT: Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh joins us now to reflect on the economic legacy of the Whitlam Government. Andrew Leigh - one of that government's first economic decisions was to reduce tariffs, what was the impact of that? 

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: That 1973 tariff cut laid the groundwork for the 1988 and 1991 tariff cuts brought in by the Hawke Government. What was striking about the 1973 tariff cut is that it was so different from the bipartisan consensus on protectionism that had existed for many decades. That notion of protectionism all round, of McEwenism, really was costing Australian industry in a way that was hurting consumers but also stopping our firms from being internationally competitive. So it was a breath of fresh air, it shocked a lot of people, and it did a lot of good for the economy.

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