Despite trumpeting a newfound commitment to international banking transparency in today's papers, Joe Hockey is leaving Australia to lag behind other countries on tackling multinational tax avoidance. Here's my thoughts on what he needs to do ahead of this week's G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Cairns:
HOCKEY STILL HEDGING ON INTERNATIONAL BANK TRANSPARENCY
Treasurer Joe Hockey must clarify whether Australia is joining the Early Adopter Group of nations tackling multinational profit shifting, following news he has seen sense on signing Australia up to international bank transparency measures.
After months of stalling and pussy-footing, Mr Hockey has finally confirmed that Australia will implement the Common Reporting Standard on financial account information. The standard is an important measure for cracking down on international tax avoidance. It allows authorities to automatically exchange information about the contents of company and individual bank accounts held overseas.
Labor has repeatedly called for Australia to join a group of more than 40 Early Adopter nations which will start preparations to implement the standard in 2016.
At the moment there is a public appeal underway to raise funds for a National Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade, in my electorate of Fraser. Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to join servicemen and women from across Australia at the future site of that memorial to mark the 67th anniversary of Australian peacekeeping.
67th ANNIVERSARY OF AUSTRALIAN PEACEKEEPING
Today, Australians came together at the future site of the national Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra to celebrate the servicemen and women who have helped foster peace and stability overseas.
14 September marks the 67th anniversary of the departure of the first contingent of Australian peacekeepers.
On this date, we pay tribute to the service of the tens of thousands of Australians who have since served overseas in fragile nations like Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands and Sudan.
As the G20 meetings in November edge closer, it's time to get serious about Australia's response to issues like multinational tax avoidance. But so far all we've seen from Treasurer Joe Hockey is empty rhetoric. In this release I argue that it's time for the Treasurer to do more than talk:
HOCKEY MUST SIGN UP FOR MORE TAX TRANSPARENCY
Treasurer Joe Hockey is procrastinating and prevaricating on a key measure to stop multinational companies shifting profits offshore.
The Common Reporting Standard provides for the automatic exchange of financial account information between banks in different countries. It is designed to make it easier to track how money moves around the world so that governments can ensure companies pay their fair share of tax.
In August, over 40 countries joined an Early Adopters Group and committed to fast-tracking implementation of the standard from January 2016. Despite Treasurer Joe Hockey endorsing the standard after the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in February, our name was conspicuously absent from that list.
One of the more exciting new developments in Australian media has been the launch of The Mandarin - a news service dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Australian public sector and policy making. I recently sat down with one of their reporters, David Donaldson, for a chat about using randomised trials to help guide better policy development. Here's a summary:
The case for randomised trials in policy development, The Mandarin, 10 September
Governments should use more randomised trials in policy development, according to federal Labor frontbencher and former economics professor Andrew Leigh.
Randomised trials are used extensively in the private sector — “you are having randomised trials done on you every time you enter a supermarket or every time you use Google”, Leigh told The Mandarin at his Parliament House office recently.New South Wales has been conducting randomised trials with letters asking people to pay fines and tax, among other things, building on the work of the British government’s Behavioural Insights Unit.
A recent NSW trial found the number of citizens paying overdue land tax jumped from 27% to 39% by introducing greater personalisation and a statement that “8/10 people pay their land tax on time” in legal notices. Other trials have included six or eight possible alternatives in the layout of websites, for example, allowing exact measurements of how customers responded to the inclusion of a photo, a logo or different text.
Another day, another not-for-profit group publicly telling Kevin Andrews we need to keep the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission...
DOES ANYONE STILL SUPPORT KEVIN ANDREWS?
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is becoming increasingly isolated in his crusade to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with a key representative of the Catholic church rejecting plans to scrap it.
In an opinion piece today the General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Rev Brian Lucas, has argued for constructive modifications to the commission while endorsing many of its key functions.
Here's one for all the fans of football and behavioural economics: Guardian Australia is featuring a piece I've written looking at why professional sports have become less violent in recent decades. This is an excerpt from my new book 'The Economics of Just About Everything':
How the cost of injured players ensured fewer fights, The Guardian, 10 September
In the 54th minute of the second game of the 2013 Rugby League State of Origin series, a fight broke out. Annoyed at Paul Gallen’s slowness to get off Jonathan Thurston, Queenslander Brent Tate pushed him away. New South Wales player Trent Merrin punched Tate, Queenslander Justin Hodges hit Merrin from behind, and New South Welshman Greg Bird joined in. What was surprising about the event wasn’t that a fight broke out, but that it was relatively mild. Of the four players sent off, two claimed not to have thrown a punch.
This morning's Sky AM Agenda spot was dominated by discussion about the Abbott Government's first year - mostly because it takes a lot of time to list off all the promises they've broken to the Australian people. Here's the video and transcript:
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER, 2014
SUBJECT/S: Australian military involvement in Iraq; James Ashby allegations; Tony Abbott’s unfair budget
KIERAN GILBERT: With me on the program this morning is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher, first to you: I guess the Foreign Minister is stating the obvious in many respects, that battling the ideology of a group such as ISIS is a lot tougher than winning militarily?
PAUL FLETCHER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well look, that's right. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken about the scale of the challenge and the fact that there's an ideology there as well as its physical manifestation in the form of this appalling terrorist organisation ISIS or ISIL. Obviously we are working with other western nations, led by the US, but we need to be realistic and I think Julie Bishop's comments have been directed towards advising the Australian population about the scale of the challenge, what can be realistically achieved. Of course we are focused on protecting Australia against the terrorist challenge posed by those who might return from fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups like ISIS and ISIL. But also doing our part, along with other nations, to seek to protect the innocent, protect civilians in Iraq, and stand up for our values.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Australia at the weekend was announced as part of that core Coalition. The US President detailed that at the NATO summit over recent days, and this is very much where it has been heading for some time.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran, I think having a broad coalition is really important in this issue. President Obama spoke about the importance of involving regional partners, and particularly about getting Sunni-majority nations involved as well. For me, I spoke last week in the parliament about the tests that ought to apply to Australia's involvement. Gareth Evans laid out what I thought was quite a nice six-point test, of which the three most important notions were: whether it is a just cause, which I think it clearly is; whether we have a reasonable prospect of success in carrying out the arms drops; and whether we have legitimate authority. For me, those tests being passed, what the government is doing does fall within what Gareth Evans has called 'a responsibility to protect'.
It has been a shocking year for the Australian Public Service under the Abbott Government. On this first anniversary of the Coalition taking government, it's worth remembering what they promised before the election, compared with what has happened since.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANOTHER VICTIM OF BROKEN PROMISES
The Australian Public Service has just endured its toughest year since ‘Max the Axe’ rampaged through in 1996, with thousands of jobs lost and promises broken.
Before the 2013 election, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne both categorically promised there would be no forced sackings within the public service, and that no more than 12,000 jobs would go:
HOCKEY OFFERS NOTHING BUT HOT AIR ON GLOBAL PROFIT SHIFTING
Treasurer Joe Hockey has revealed he has nothing but talk to offer when it comes to making multinational companies pay their fair share of tax.
In Parliament this morning, Mr Hockey spent 15 minutes mouthing empty words about tackling base erosion and profit shifting by major global firms. But despite all his big talk, Mr Hockey failed to outline how his government will make companies that evade tax pay a single dollar more tax.
What’s more, Mr Hockey has heaped responsibility for pursuing global tax avoidance onto the Australian Tax office, at a time when his government is axing 2100 tax experts from that agency.
Between the Abbott Government ditching Labor's scheduled increase to the super contributions of millions of Australians, the scrapping of the mining tax and the introduction of legislation to deregulate universities, it's been a big week in federal politics. I joined Waleed Aly on Radio National's Drive program to talk about the highs and lows:
RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
WEDNESDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER, 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s broken promise on superannuation; MRRT; industrial relations changes.
WALEED ALY: Turning now to federal politics and a new battle line has been drawn in federal politics over the frighteningly exciting topic of compulsory superannuation. It is, however, very important and we've been discussing it this week on the program. Part of the federal government's deal to scrap the mining tax is that a planned increase in the employer contribution to your superannuation – from 9 per cent over time to 12 per cent – has been put on hold until 2021. How many years is that? It's a lot of years – seven or so. Labor says Australian workers will be worse off; the government says workers will be better off. So we've got a representative from each side in our regular RN smackdown: Josh Frydenberg, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Gents – welcome.
JOSH FRYDENBERG, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Waleed. Good to be with you, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Likewise Josh, and thanks for having us Waleed.
ALY: Josh, I've got to ask you, in the context of a 'budget emergency', this deal that was struck with the Palmer United Party yesterday: how much is that going to cost the budget? Something like $6.5 billion, was it?
FRYDENBERG: It's actually different to that. It's going to save $50 billion over the next 10 years because the mining tax is going to be repealed, and the mining tax had $17 billion of spending attached to it, Waleed. So this is, in fact, a very prudent budgetary measure and its consistent with our election commitments. We're very pleased that we were able to negotiate with the Palmer United Party, as well as the other independents, to repeal it.
ALY: You're talking over 10 years, I'm talking about the budget emergency that means we have to do this over the short term. We're keeping now the Schoolkids Bonus for a number of years – in fact beyond the next election; you've got the Low Income Support Bonus, the Low Income Superannuation Contribution, this is all staying now. By all the calculations I've seen in the press, over the short term this is going to cost $6.5 billion.
FRYDENBERG: We're actually saving $10 billion over the forward estimates, over just the next few years. We are changing the means testing arrangements for the Schoolkids Bonus. But we have to deal with the Senate as it is, not as we wish it would be. We don't believe that the mining tax was a good tax – it was promised to provide $49.5 billion worth of revenue when it was first conceived. It ended up producing just $340 million, so a long way short of the Labor party's projections. As a result, we couldn't continue with the accompanying spending commitments that Labor left us. So we think this is a good outcome, but unfortunately Labor is crying foul because we've done a deal with Clive Palmer.
ALY: Alright, Andrew Leigh I'll come to the substance of the super changes – or non-changes, as the case may be – in a moment. But your assessment of the budgetary impact?
LEIGH: Again blowing out inequality, Waleed. You and I seem to talk about inequality every time we get together for one of these conversations, and the context that we're having that conversation in is that we've seen a big rise in inequality in Australia over the past generation. Billionaires have made out a whole lot better than battlers over the last 30 years. And now we've got a deal which disproportionately benefits a few billionaires at the expense of nine million battlers. Australians have a right to expect that they can retire in dignity, and they've got a right to expect that the Prime Minister will stay true to his pre-election promises not to change superannuation. This is a big adverse change and it seems as though the reflexive instinct of this government at every turn is to back the filthy rich at the expense of the most vulnerable. So when it comes to superannuation, they've scrapped our modest savings which asked people with more than $2 million in their super accounts to pay a little bit more tax, but at the same time they're slugging people earning less than $37,000 a year – two-thirds of whom are women – with higher superannuation taxes. It's a government which is constantly hurting the most vulnerable; a group of ministers who make the Addams Family look like the Brady Bunch.