I've got an op-ed in today's Business Spectator on why Joe Hockey shouldn't walk away from his promise to fairly tax multinational firms. It doesn't seem a big ask to make sure all companies pay their fair share.
Tackling tax dodges is a problem of will, not power, Business Spectator, 22 December
It’s rare to see stories about tax taking up the front pages of some of Australia’s biggest newspapers.
But then again, it is thankfully also rare to see a Treasurer slash almost $4 billion from foreign aid while simultaneously giving hundreds of millions of dollars back to multinational firms.
That’s what Joe Hockey did in his 2014 mid-year budget update by backing down on a promise made in November 2013, just after last year’s election.
Back then, the freshly-minted Treasurer promised to come up with a targeted rule stopping companies artificially shrinking their tax bills by loading up on debt and then claiming deductions for the interest paid.
We know this is a problem because Treasury and the Australian Tax Office told us so during Labor’s comprehensive crackdown on multinational tax in 2013.
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 19 DECEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Mini-Budget; Tony Abbott’s Christmas gift to multinationals; Cabinet reshuffle; Trade Unions Royal Commission; Andrew Crook
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We've now got six days til Christmas, and it's very clear the Abbott Government's giveaways are for those at the top, not those at the bottom. They're trying to re-gift their GP tax - wrapping it up and hoping the Australian people won't notice - and they've still got their cuts to pensions, to health and education. Yet at the same time, in Monday's mini-budget Joe Hockey broke a promise to get tax back from multinational firms. He said very clearly in last year's mini-budget that he would fairly tax multinationals with a targeted anti-avoidance measure. But on Monday he broke that promise. Why is it that under this Government, the only presents are for those at the top, and all the pain is felt by those at the bottom? I think it's very clear that with only five sitting weeks left until the next Budget, this Budget already stinks worse than a plate of prawns left out in the Christmas sun. Australians are seeing the lack of consumer confidence that has come from a Treasurer talking down the economy, and behaving more like a Shadow Treasurer in drag than like someone who is responsible for a $1.6 trillion economy. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Cabinet reshuffle, and do you think Arthur Sinodinos has a place in the Government?
LEIGH: Well it's been 272 days now since Australia had a full-time Assistant Treasurer. I think it's clearly showing through Joe Hockey's many gaffes that Australia needs a full-time Assistant Treasurer. But you don't envy the Prime Minister, because there's plenty more ministers who have been naughty than nice.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be more women in the Abbott Cabinet?
LEIGH: I think Australians would like to see a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of Australia. Simply having one woman in Cabinet puts us well back from where we've been in the last generation.
JOURNALIST: Who do you believe should be Assistant Treasurer?
LEIGH: Well that's a decision to be made by the Government, but you wouldn't exactly say that they're spoiled for choice.
JOURNALIST: Do you see this as a sign that the Government is in trouble? We've seen policy backflips in recent weeks, and now rumours of a reshuffle - is this a case of the Government trying to clear the slate and start next year better off in the polls?
LEIGH: I think this Government is in more trouble than a Santa Claus impersonator stuck down a chimney. It's got all kinds of strife going on, with ministers who think that there's a link between abortion and breast cancer, a Prime Minister who wants to campaign on knights and dames, and with a Treasurer who thinks it's ok to smoke cigars while handing down the most unfair Budget in political history. This is a Government that needs a fundamental reboot - not of its strategy, but out of office.
JOURNALIST: On another issue, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the Interim Report of the Trade Union Commission - is that welcome to the ALP?
LEIGH: This is a political Royal Commission set up by the Abbott Government. I'm not going to be providing any commentary on it.
JOURNALIST: Speaking of charges and possible arrests, Andrew Crook - Clive Palmer's chief media adviser - appears to have been detained by Queensland Police. That's a pretty extraordinary turn of events, don't you think?
LEIGH: There's a general principle that parliamentarians shouldn't comment on matters that are before the courts or could come before the courts, and this matter certainly seems to be in that category. Thanks everyone.
MEDIA CONTACT: JENNIFER RAYNER 0428 214 856
Balancing the budget involves hard choices. As I explained to Mark Parton in this interview with Radio 2CC ahead of the mid-year budget update, my party will always support fair budget savings. But by the same token, we will fight budget decisions which fail the fairness test. Here's the transcript:
MONDAY, 15 DECEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Joe Hockey’s mini-budget
MARK PARTON: Treasurer Joe Hockey is going to have a shocker of a day today. He's expected to reveal revenue has taken a further hit of just over $6.2 billion in just over six months. Things that are out of his control but he knows he's going to get smashed for it. So if we had a budget emergency at Budget time, we've got a potential catastrophe now. Mr Hockey will deliver his mid-year economic update today and there are reports of forecasts of $379 billion in receipts, that follows figures of $389 billion in May. So it's down substantially and many of the experts are saying that deficits over the period will more than double to $100 billion. There's little hope of economic improvement without radical action.
Andrew Leigh is waiting in the wings; Andrew's specialty is economics so he knows how to assess figures much better than you and I. He's about to suggest to us that Joe Hockey is a fool – I'm assuming he is – he's about to slam the Treasurer for failing to reign the deficit in and tell us how diabolically bad it is. But I just don't know that you can have it both ways because for years Andrew has been telling us that there is no budget emergency and that running a deficit isn't a bad thing. It certainly wasn't when Labor was doing it, it was fine. I had many conversations with Andrew, during which he compared our deficit to a home loan and basically said it was nothing to worry about. Unless the other mob is in power, and then it's a disaster. I'm sick of the theatre. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and the Member for Fraser – morning Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Mark.
PARTON: Budget deficits will almost double to $100 billion over the next four years – is this a budget emergency?
LEIGH: Well Mark, it's certainly a problem for the nation if Joe Hockey keeps on giving money back to multinationals, keeps on giving money to people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts, and wants to give $50,000 to millionaire families to have a child.
One of the highlights of this parliamentary year has been joining Waleed Aly on RN Drive for our regular political panel. Before he heads off for new adventures, I joined him one last time to talk about the government's recent policy backflips on the UN Climate Fund, the GP tax and the upcoming deficit in the mid-year budget update. Here's the transcript:
RN DRIVE WITH WALEED ALY
WEDNESDAY, 10 DECEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: UN climate fund; foreign aid spending; Tony Abbott’s GP tax; MYEFO
WALEED ALY: So it's 11 minutes past 6. Josh Frydenberg is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and he joins me along with Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Sadly he's only on the phone today, but I'm sure he'll be no less pugnacious for that fact. Thanks for coming in, or being on the phone, guys, good to have you with us.
JOSH FRYDENBERG, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Nice to be with you, Waleed.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be here, Waleed.
ALY: [On the UN Climate Fund] First we were not going to contribute; now we are.
JULIE BISHOP, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I have been tasked by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to announce today at this meeting that Australia will pledge a contribution of 200 million Australian dollars over four years to the Green Climate Fund.
ALY: Yes, that was Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. As you can hear there, there was much applause and merriment and much confusion because the government had previously told us this was impossible, it was a bad idea, it was a Bob Brown sort of an idea to contribute to a climate change fund of this sort; and all of a sudden $200 million. Why the change of heart, Josh? This is an outrage.
FRYDENBERG: Well this is a good outcome isn't it? Here we are...
ALY: It was a bad outcome a couple of weeks ago.
In his hunt for announcements to distract from the disastrous budget, Joe Hockey has today released a series of half-baked ideas about multinational tax. That's not the basis for good public policy.
THOUGHT BUBBLES NO SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOD TAX POLICY
Joe Hockey's announcement of 'new' multinational tax measures shows just how out of his depth the Treasurer is when it comes to making companies pay their fair share.
The proposal Mr Hockey has floated today comes with no details and no dollar figure attached.
At a time when he is crowing about every dollar ripped from the pockets of pensioners, families and university students, Mr Hockey cannot say how much new tax revenue he expects to make by pursuing international firms.
With the federal government's mini-budget due within days, it is increasingly clear that Joe Hockey is going to have to find new savings to make up for a big increase in the deficit. He's already hit the states hard this year with budget cuts - will he do it again?
HOW MUCH MORE WILL HOCKEY HOOK IN FROM THE STATES?
Joe Hockey must set the states straight on whether he plans to yank more funding from their books to fill the growing hole in his upcoming mini-budget.
Several of the biggest states – including New South Wales and Queensland – have their own budget updates due before the end of the year.
Back in May, the Treasurer ripped $80 billion in health and education funding from the states with absolutely no warning.
This across-the-board cutback blew a huge hole in their finances, in some cases forcing the states back to the drawing board only weeks after they had handed down their own budgets.
The Treasurer is urgently casting about for new savings for replace his unfair GP tax and higher education changes, all of which are rightly being blocked by the Parliament.
The government has ended the Parliamentary year with its budget in a real mess. In this op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, I've looked ahead to the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook statement to encourage Joe Hockey and his colleagues to find a better, fairer way.
Meritocracy at risk of becoming a mate-ocracy, Daily Telegraph, 5 December
Early last year, Joe Hockey pledged: "We'll deliver a surplus in our first year and every year after that." For the eighth time, he committed that an incoming Coalition government would never preside over a budget in deficit. Every Coalition budget, Mr Hockey pledged, would be a surplus budget.
Fast forward a year, and the only thing in surplus is red ink. When the Coalition came to office, the Charter of Budget Honesty laid out the state of the books. This year's budget deficit was forecast to be $24 billion.
So much for paying down debt. By the time Mr Hockey had delivered his first budget, he'd pushed this year's deficit up to $30 billion. Now, most informed sources have it blowing out still further when the mini-Budget is released in a few weeks.
Why is the deficit rising? Part of the answer is that Mr Hockey can't resist looking after his mates. A billion dollars to multinationals, a tax break for people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts, and soon you're talking real money.
DEAR HOCKEY: GET YOUR OWN HOUSE IN ORDER
Joe Hockey’s hypocrisy appears to know no bounds, as he lectures European leaders about cracking down on corporate tax avoidance while re-opening $1.1 billion in loopholes here in Australia.
The Treasurer has reportedly written to the European Union’s tax commissioner urging him to tighten rules that allow profit shifting and lead to erosion of the national tax base.
Yet while Mr Hockey attempts to throw his weight around in Europe, back in Australia he could not be taking a lighter touch on multinational profit shifting.
Yesterday it looked as though we'd get to decide on the future of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission once and for all. Today, the government has backed away from putting it to a vote. This uncertainty is bad for the charity sector and has gone on long enough.
ALARMED ANDREWS RUNS AWAY FROM ACNC FIGHT
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has beaten a retreat from putting his plan to abolish the charities commission to a vote in the parliament, leaving not-for-profits in limbo again heading into Christmas.
Yesterday Minster Andrews finally allowed for debate on the bill to abolish the charities commission, 253 days after it was first introduced to the House of Representatives.
The debate was scheduled to continue today, but the government has now pulled its bill again and will not bring it to a vote before Parliament rises for the year.
The Abbott Government has decided to use the last two days of parliament for the year to debate abolishing the charities commission. That's an appalling message to send the not-for-profit sector as they're gearing up to help hundreds of thousands of Australian families out over Christmas.
CHARITIES COMMISSION KERFUFFLE AN EMBARRASSMENT FOR ANDREWS
The Abbott Government’s plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission are in a shambles, as the government will this afternoon attempt to rush through a pointless bill which cannot pass the Senate.
Exactly one year ago, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews stood up in the parliament and committed to sending the charities commission to the chopping block.