No defence for lack of transparency - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 16 JUNE 2020

I was just pausing for a moment to see if perhaps there was one member of the coalition who might defend their current position. I'm perfectly happy to yield to anyone on the other side who wants to defend the position that they are about to vote for.

I think they're hoping that people will see the word 'tax' and just tune out. But let's be very clear about what we're debating in the House right now: the government wants to throw an invisibility cloak over their mates so they can evade scrutiny. It is as simple as that.

This is a measure that should have been a temporary exemption for a couple of years. That's what it was to have been when the Keating government put it in place in 1995. But it was the Howard government that said, 'You know, this is a pretty good lurk for some of our mates. Let's make it permanent.'

As previous speakers on this side—I don't need to say that; there have been no speakers on the other side—have noted, 1995 is a long time ago. The year 1995 was the era of Forrest Gump. It was when Oasis's 'Wonderwall' topped Triple J's Hottest 100 list. It was the era of Silverchair. It was a period in which most parliamentarians weren't on the internet and didn't have email. It was a very different era from today. Yet the coalition want to keep on rolling this little exemption forward, using excuses that become more and more spurious.

As I'm sure all of our parents mentioned at some point, if you don't have anything nice to say, just don't say anything. What those on the other side are doing is taking it to the next level: if you don't have a single decent defence, don't say anything at all; just stay really, really quiet and hope the Australian people don't see that you're voting for a cloak of invisibility for your mates. Those on the other side are welcome to jump up and defend it at any point, but they can't and they won't. They know it is as indefensible as their taking money from cigarette companies, as they did up until recently. They know it's as indefensible as their pledge to introduce a national integrity commission bill by the end of last year, which they squibbed on.

As the member for Whitlam has noted, their reason for voting against it is just laughable: 'The issue raised by this amendment is the subject of a recommendation in the Senate Economics Committees' report Corporate tax avoidance: Part 1—You cannot tax what you cannot see.' As the member for Whitlam noted, it would've been helpful if they'd mentioned the year of that report. That is a 2015 report. The basis upon which they want to defend a 25-year-old exemption is a five-year-old Senate report that they haven't got around to responding to. So maybe, if we give them another 25 years, they'll respond to the Senate report, and maybe, another 25 years after that, they'll think about getting around to removing the exemption for their mates.

Let's remember who's hurt by this. The Australian taxpayer is hurt by this. Other competing businesses are hurt by this, because new businesses don't get the lurk. This is not just a grandfather provision; it's a great-grandfather provision, and it's disadvantaging the young start-up firms that have to report their dealings to ASIC, as they should.

The fact is that the government has not a single excuse for its current position. Saying it's in a 2015 Senate report that they'll get around to responding to is laughable. ASIC supports removing this exemption. Labor supports removing this exemption. We voted for it in 2015 when Ricky Muir put it up, and the Liberals and the Greens voted it down. We voted for it in 2018, after the Greens backflipped and decided to put it up. We're voting again today to remove this exemption which should not have existed for more than a couple of years. It is absolutely indefensible that the government would continue to defend those 1,500 select few companies. It is the party not of the many but of the few. They're not the party for middle Australia; they're the party for looking after their mates. They're not a party for transparency, because they don't have the guts to stand up here right now and defend their own position. Not one of them will step up and defend it, because they know it's indefensible.

ENDS

Authorised by Paul Erickson, 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.