The Australian Financial Review has just published some pretty explosive evidence of multinational profit shifting by major Australian and international firms. I joined Waleed Aly on Radio National's Drive program to talk about what the government should be doing to tackle this.
RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
THURSDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: multinational profit shifting
WALEED ALY: Andrew Leigh joins me now, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. He's been arguing that we've got some problems here and that the government is going the wrong way about trying to deal with them. Thank you very much for joining us, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Waleed.
ALY: Let's talk about this scenario, and let me be radical about this and ask a threshold question: is this actually a problem? Because we can try to close tax loopholes but won't that just ultimately drive people or companies to other countries where they can use those loopholes, and then we don't even get the benefit of their employment?
LEIGH: Waleed, I think it's a constant race between lawyers for multinational firms looking to find loopholes and countries looking to close those loopholes. We need to be vigilant as a country to make sure that we're closing those loopholes. I don't think that making sure that people pay their fair share of tax means that they'll ship all their jobs overseas. In fact, that ought to be a free market notion: that everyone pays the same rate of tax. Every time one firm pays less tax, effectively other firms and individuals have to make up the difference in order to support the social services we value.
ALY: The problem we have here is the cracks which exist in laws between states, ultimately. If we had one global tax regime this would be impossible, you simply couldn't do this.
LEIGH: That's right. As a result, what you have is firms wanting to book revenue in low-tax jurisdictions and deductions in high-tax jurisdictions. The tax authorities are seeking to stop them doing that.
ALY: Right. But that needs international cooperation. The G20, I suppose, will take a look at this next week, it's certainly on the agenda. But is there anything Australia can actually do? Because unless everyone is one the same page – it's a bit like the climate change problem – unless everyone cooperates, anything you do ends up being futile.
LEIGH: No, that's not right. We can certainly move to close loopholes in our own tax laws, and that's one of the big things that Wayne Swan and David Bradbury did last year when they put together the biggest ever package of multinational profit shifting reforms. It was so recognised around the world that it won David Bradbury an award for being one of the 50 best tax reformers in 2013. When the Coalition came to office, I'd expected that they'd take that package and build on it. But instead, they took that package and chipped away at it. They gave $1.1 billion of tax breaks back to multinationals by deciding not to proceed with measures, for example, to curtail the use of offshore banking units or to stop multinationals engaging in debt shifting.
The evidence continues to mount up that Australia's Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is doing great work. Surely it's time for the Abbott Government and Kevin Andrews to start paying attention?
USA WANTS A CHARITIES COMMISSION. WHY DOESN'T MR ABBOTT?
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has proven to be so successful that charity regulators from across the USA are now looking to replicate it. This is further proof that the Abbott Government has got in wrong in moving to scrap the commission.
One of the commission’s senior executives was recently invited to the United States to tell the National Association of State Charity Officials more about how the regulator’s work is increasing transparency and cutting red tape for not-for-profits.
In particular, the US group is looking at replicating Australia’s national Charities Register to increase accountability and protect donors against scams.
It is also considering the Charity Passport initiative, which allows not-for-profits to report once to the charities commission and then have this information shared with other government agencies.
With new data out showing ACT property prices have started to tumble, it's feeling a bit like 1996 all over again for many Canberra homeowners.
ABBOTT'S CUTS ALREADY HURTING CANBERRA HOMEOWNERS
New property data shows Tony Abbott’s cuts to Canberra are starting to bite, with house prices falling 2.3 per cent in October.
While property prices rose in other capitals, an RP Data report shows the price of Canberra homes fell below the national median.
Joe Hockey joked about driving property prices down before the 2013 election, saying:
“There is a golden rule for real estate in Canberra – you buy Liberal and you sell Labor.”
– Press conference, 31 May 2013
While we all support affordable housing, this is best achieved through smart policies that manage supply, not through massive job losses and collapsing consumer confidence.
While I was in Hobart with my colleague Lisa Singh, I heard firsthand from lots of Tasmanians about the negative impact changes to the GST distribution would have in their state. So I held a press conference calling on Tasmania's Liberal representatives to stand up for their state and fight Tony Abbott on this; here's the transcript.
TUESDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2014
HOBART, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
SUBJECT/S: GST distribution; Tony Abbott’s unfair budget; ADF pay deal; polls
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks everyone for coming along. We've been down here today speaking with local community groups about their concerns around Tony Abbott's unfair cuts to Tasmania. Tony Abbott was in Tasmania recently to speak to the Tasmanian Liberals. He says he wants a mature and sensible debate about tax, but he didn't talk to them about his GST plans and how they will adversely affect Tasmania. The simple fact is that the GST is not a magic pudding. If Tony Abbott wants to give more GST to one state, that means other states will get less or the base of the rate of the GST will have to go up. So Tony Abbott needs to be clear with Tasmanians that not only are his $80 billion of health and education cuts hurting this state, but if he wants to give more GST money to one state then that's going to mean less for others. There's a lot of noise being made by certain Liberal members from Western Australia, but by contrast we see the Tasmanian Liberals being completely silent in Canberra, like little lambs cowering in the corner. Will Hodgman is doing nothing to stand up to Tony Abbott on the issue of the GST.
I wanted to make one other quick comment too, and then happy to take questions.
On the Government's ADF pay deal, the Government has overseen a pay deal for ADF personnel that will see them getting a real pay cut. This is, in my view, the biggest scandal since the Fine Cotton Affair. Men and women in the defence forces put themselves on the line and they shouldn't have to fight the Abbott Government for a fair deal on pay. They deserve a real pay increase. Stuart Robert, the junior Defence Minister, said while he was in opposition that a real pay cut would have been outrageous. We should apply the same standard to the real pay cut that the Abbott Government is now putting on the table.
I might hand over now to my colleagues to say a couple of words and then happy to take questions.
The Abbott Government's first budget is a disaster for communities around Australia, but Tasmanians will feel the impact more than most. I joined my colleague Senator Lisa Singh in Hobart to hear firsthand from community groups about how Tasmanians will be affected by changes to income support, pensions and healthcare spending, and plan for how we'll keep fighting the government on these.
TACKLING INEQUALITY IN TASMANIA
Community groups and grassroots activists have come together to talk about tackling inequality in the wake of the most unfair budget in Australian history.
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and Senator for Tasmania Lisa Singh today met with representatives of Anglicare, the Grandparents Advisory Council and other local groups to hear about how Tasmanians will be affected by cuts to income support and pensions, as well as new taxes like the $7 GP fee and higher fuel excise.
“The Abbott Government’s first budget chipped away at the very pillars that support the Australian fair go,” said Dr Leigh, who last year authored a book titled Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia.
"Over the past generation Australia has seen a rise in inequality, with a widening gap between those on high incomes and those struggling to make their pay last from week to week," he said.
"Tony Abbott's first budget will make us a more divided society, because his cuts hurt those on low incomes, while his giveaways help those at the top.
With plenty of speculation around about the Abbott Government's plans on the GST, I joined Capital Hill to talk about the implications of changing any one state's share of the pie. Here's the transcript:
ABC CAPITAL HILL
MONDAY, 3 NOVEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: GST distribution; interest rates
LYNDAL CURTIS: Joining me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, welcome to Capital Hill. Do you believe Western Australia has a real problem?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well Lyndal, certainly all states and territories are struggling after the $80 billion cut to health and education that Tony Abbott delivered in his last budget. That has made it harder for the states and territories – whether they be governed by Labor or Liberal governments – to make ends meet.
CURTIS: But Western Australia had a problem even before that; it's been complaining about this for some time.
LEIGH: There's a strong case being made by the Western Australian members of parliament. But the problem is that Tony Abbott wants to have it both ways. He wants to send smoke signals out in the west that he's open to giving them a greater share of the GST, but then to say to people in the east that they won't lose out. But Lyndal, the GST is not a magic pudding. If one state gets a larger amount, then it is either because another state has got a smaller amount, or because they've raised the rate or the base.
I'm not much of a believer in polls, but I know there's one set of numbers Australians are pretty worried about right now. I joined Fairfax's Breaking Politics program to talk about what they are; here's the transcript.
FAIRFAX BREAKING POLITICS
MONDAY, 3 NOVEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Ipsos poll; Royal Commission into union corruption; UN climate change report
CALLUM DENNESS: Joining me now is Andrew Leigh and Andrew Laming, good morning to you both.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning.
ANDREW LAMING, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Good morning.
DENNESS: Andrew Leigh, if I could start with you first: new polling today shows that the Prime Minister remains unpopular and there are key policies that are unloved, yet the government has moved into an election-winning position. That would be pretty worrying for the Opposition, wouldn't it?
LEIGH: Callum, I don't place much store on poll numbers. But I do think there are certain numbers that are worrying Australians. There's the $7 Tony Abbott wants them to pay to go to the doctor, the $6,000 he's taking away from the poorest single parents, and the last-placed ranking we've achieved in the global Green Economy Index for leadership on climate change. They're the kinds of numbers that are of deep concern to me, and which resonate whenever I'm out on street corners talking to my electors.
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.
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:
FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014
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.
JOSH FRYDENBERG, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER: (Laughs)
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good evening, Emma.
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.
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:
BETTER TAX TRANSPARENCY UNDER LABOR
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.