HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 17 JUNE 2020
In The Mikado, the Lord High Executioner sings, 'I've got a little list,' and the coalition have a little list as well. Their little list is of their mates that they would like to avoid public scrutiny. That's what they're doing with this vote that we are about to have in this place. Yet again, for the third time in as many days, they are going to come into this place and defend the indefensible.
Why do I say it's indefensible? It's because none of them are standing up to defend it.
None of them are saying 'boo' as to why they are taking this extraordinary action. They're too ashamed. As the member for Whitlam says, they are hanging their heads, hoping the issue will go away.
The fact is that the issue will not go away. This provision was grandfathered in 1995 and had been intended to be in place for a year or two. The Howard government made it permanent and the mob on the other side want to maintain it. They have no rational reason for arguing in favour of it. In 2015, ASIC said very clearly that such a list 'reduces transparency about possible indicators of tax avoidance or tax minimisation'. The firms on this list are not tiddlywink firms. They include Baiada, Tangaratta, 7-Eleven, Linfox and Suttons Investments. They include firms, as Tom McIlroy from The Australian Financial Review has said:
… linked to billionaire rich listers Anthony Pratt, Kerry Stokes and Bruce Gordon, along with firms controlled by the Myer family, transport magnate Lindsay Fox, and private hospital giant Ramsay Health Care.
They include entities linked to Transfield, Tobin Brothers, Bob Jane, Jones Lang LaSalle, Sealey, Inghams and Dymocks. It includes billionaire investor Alex Waislitz's Thorney Opportunities Ltd and leading hedge fund Portland House Group among others.
In listing these firms, I'm not casting aspersions on them, because they couldn't get off the list even if they wanted to. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried in 2018 and was unable to do so. So the fact is that this list only exists for one purpose—to prevent the proper public scrutiny of private firms. We're not asking much in asking the government to remove this exemption. We are saying that these firms, which are old firms—because, by definition, you had to exist in 1995 to be on the list—should be on the same level playing field as other private firms in Australia. We're asking for a level playing field, which is, of course, a Labor value but once upon a time was a coalition value too. But the coalition won't defend it and can't defend it. The once-great party of Menzies has become the party of 'the dog ate my homework', the party unable to come in here and back up with words what it is about to do with its vote.
Labor has been utterly consistent on this issue. In 2015, we voted for Ricky Muir's measure to get rid of the grandfathered list. The Greens voted with the Liberals at the time, but a few years later the Greens had a change of heart and put up an amendment and we voted with them at the time. We, again, believe that these 1,500 firms should be treated like every other private firm in Australia. Again, today, we are consistent with the position we have held since 2015, voting to say: 'Enough's enough. Let's get rid of the grandfathered position. Let's put these 1,500 firms on the same footing as all other firms in Australia.' In so doing, we are ensuring that integrity is returned to our tax system. It is only fair that these firms be treated as other firms are treated. It's what ASIC has called for.
The government have no rational reason for their position. They tabled a desultory note in which they said their reason for not responding was that there was a Senate report that they hadn't yet responded to. When was that Senate report handed down? 2015. Their only reason is: 'We are voting against it because a 2015 report recommended it and we haven't got around to responding to that report.' The party of Menzies has become the party of 'the dog ate my homework'. They have no reason for voting the way they did. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame for this secrecy provision which protects some of the richest firms in Australia.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.