NEWSDAY, SKY NEWS
MONDAY, 15 AUGUST 2022
Subjects: Labor’s plans to rebuild the charity sector; Labor’s plans to make multinationals pay their fair share of tax
TOM CONNELL: We're volunteering less than we used to. So why is that the case? Joining me now is Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. Thanks very much for your time. You're delving into this problem. Why do you think we're not out there volunteering, putting as many hours as we used to into the community?
ANDREW LEIGH: It's part of an overall decline that we've seen, Tom. Australians are not only less likely to volunteer, but less likely to join community organisations, to play team sports. We've got fewer friends than we did in the 1980s, and we know fewer of our neighbours. We've become disconnected. I don't think this is the fault of either side of politics, but certainly the former government's war on charities didn't help. That prompted three open letters from the sector, calling on successive Liberal Prime Ministers to back off their attacks on charities. Labor’s ended the war on charities, but I'm now reaching out to charities through these building community forums - which kicked off in Sydney today - asking for their ideas about how we can work together collaboratively. Philanthropic funders, charities and government, to build more reconnected Australia.
CONNELL: You mentioned all the other things we're not doing as much. So basically, all of those things involve getting out there, seeing people. How much is linked to lives being online? I mean, it's so easy to wile away hours online. Even go to sort of random encounters - you go to a bar, a lot of people wouldn't talk to someone if they're 20 minutes early, they bury themselves in their phones. Is it just sort of the way we're living?
LEIGH: You're spot on, Tom. And one of these challenges is the way in which devices can sometimes pull us apart. But we talked today in the forum about the way in which internet connectivity can bring organisations together. There's groups that are using online platforms to showcase the work that their volunteers do, to tell the stories of miracle babies, to talk about how fun it can be to have your kid involved in Scouts or Guides. So it's vital that we don't disappear into our phones as a substitute for connecting, but we use them less like televisions and more like telephones, less like entertainment platforms and more like platforms that can connect us to one another. I call that cyber connecting, and I think it's one way we can see a turnaround of these worrying trends that I outlined before.
CONNELL: It strikes me a lot of this can start when you're young. It's doubly important because first of all, if you're a parent, you get your kids out doing stuff. You're teaching them, you know, getting out and learning how to actually tie that knot is more interesting than maybe watching a YouTube kids video on it. And also for the parents themselves - they get out there and they maybe actually talk to other parents, and make friends themselves.
LEIGH: You're absolutely right, Tom. My three boys are just nicer kids when they're interacting with friends than when they're disappearing into a YouTube vortex. And frankly, that's true of their parents as well. I do my best to try and stay off devices while I'm around my kids, and I fail often. These are technologies that are built to be addictive. So it's important that we have those conversations about how to manage them, and I know many schools are going through that constructive conversation. I've had that chat with Jason Clare, the Education Minister, and I know many of his state and territory counterparts are tackling it too. But it's hard. You know, these are apps and devices which are made to be addictive. There's multibillion dollar companies that want our eyeballs, and we're fighting against it as we try and hold the strength of community, and the fact that at the end of the day we are much happier people when we're spending time together. Humans are ultimately a social species, and it's not in our nature just to spend all our day doom scrolling.
CONNELL: No, I'm glad it's not just me failing. My toddler picked up my phone yesterday, and went and stuck it in a drawer. I thought I must be on it too much at the moment. It was mainly work related, but you delve into things and you get lost, don't you? I want to ask you about multinational tax. So there's a paper outlining how the government wants these companies to pay more. In the most simple sense, to stop them claiming big amounts of debt, sometimes within the own company, you know within its own company that they're paying interest on that debt, and also branding, again charging themselves within their own major, you know, worldwide company for branding. So that's fine. Are the companies going to necessarily play ball? They've got huge teams to minimise tax. They'll be able to find other ways, won’t they?
LEIGH: Multinational tax is an agenda which is never done, Tom. It's constantly a matter of tax authorities looking to keep up with some of the sort of sharp elbowed accountants that are finding new lurks and loopholes. But we've got to do it because the tax base depends on it. If multinationals don't pay their fair share, then individuals and small businesses have to pay more to fund essential services like Medicare. These sort of pea and thimble tricks - you've outlined two of them - involve shifting profits out of Australia, off to lower tax or no tax jurisdictions. And that's also bad for business confidence. It means that a small business start-up is suddenly competing against a multinational that’s stashing its profits in the Cayman Islands, and no small business is able to do that. We want an economy in which firms are competing based on great ideas and innovation and serving your customers well, and not on finding the next tax loophole.
CONNELL: You’re conceding it's a bit of a game of Whack a Mole. The other element to this is unless you get that proper global cooperation, which is being worked upon, there's only so much the government - the Australian government - can do. And the amount you're hoping to raise, without that global cooperation, is it fair to say that that could disappoint a bit?
LEIGH: The measures we took to the election are worth $1.9 billion over the forward estimates. But we're, of course, working on that international agreement that you mentioned there, Tom. There's two pillars to that OECD G20 Agreement. Pillar one requires broad consensus, but pillar two actually has a built in advantage to countries that adopt early. I'm keen for Australia to be part of that early adopters group, to show moral leadership on tax internationally, but also to garner the revenue that comes from moving swiftly on having that global 15 per cent minimum tax. It takes us away from that whole idea of a race to the bottom in company tax. And frankly, this OECD G20 agreement is really about saving the company tax base in an era of weightless production. There is a risk that if we don't get this right, ultimately the corporate tax base could disappear. So a big stakes game.
CONNELL: Yeah, they are. We'll see how it goes, in particular international agreement, which has been difficult to progress in recent times. Minister, thanks for your time today.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Tom. Thank you.