THURSDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Michaelia Cash, AWU, Multinational tax avoidance.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: To continue discussing this as well as some wider issues in his portfolio, I’m joined now by the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh. Thanks very much for your company.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Peter. Great to be with you.
VAN ONSELEN: Forget to shave this morning?
LEIGH: It’s apparently all the rage. I’m following in the footsteps of your regular Sky guests Chris Bowen, Ed Husic, Stephen Jones. All the cool kids seem to be doing it.
VAN ONSELEN: [laughter] Is that the best you can do building a beard? We’ll move on, there are some very serious issues to be discussed. We will get to some of the issues in your portfolio around the government, in your words, not delivering a cent on multinational tax avoidance. Something that, if you like, has been overshadowed by the bigger news which is where I have to start. Michaelia Cash – Labor believes that she should resign because of the inappropriate actions of her staff. When’s Penny Wong going to resign over the inappropriate actions of her staff, vis-à-vis the New Zealanders?
LEIGH: Peter, it’s a ridiculous comparison. You know as well as I do that we’re talking about tipping off the media to a police raid. This is extraordinarily serious stuff and frankly, if the issue here was destroying documents, how much more ham-fisted can it be than to send the press along beforehand? Imagine the scene outside the AWU offices – ‘What are you television reporters doing here? Oh, we’re here for the police raid. Really? Why is the police raid happening? Well, it’s happening to make sure you don’t destroy documents’. I mean, this is public maladministration of the first order. Michaelia Cash needs to step down.
VAN ONSELEN: Why didn’t Julia Gillard resign when her staffer tipped off protesters about a tony Abbott visit which caused a riot?
LEIGH: Again, Peter, this is just chalk and cheese. We are talking here about the Australian Federal Police and the way in which they carry out their duties-
VAN ONSELEN: As opposed to a riot, which put the Opposition Leader and alternative prime minister in harm’s way?
LEIGH: This is the most serious issue of its kind that we’ve seen, Peter. I don’t think anyone doubts that. What we’ve got here is the compromise of the AFP. It’s occurred in the backdrop of the government affectively saying that the AFP needs to send 25 officers in to chase down a ten-year-old document, which has apparently already been provided to the partisan trade union royal commission. This after we’ve learnt that the AFP didn’t have resources to follow up a 1.6 tonne cocaine importation. So the AFP resources are being diverted away to a nakedly partisan pursuit of Bill Shorten’s time leading a major Australian union, campaigning for a better deal for workers. This is all about the government using the AFP for their own political ends.
VAN ONSELEN: Well, let me help you out, Dr Leigh. I think there’s a difference between the situation with Julia Gillard and this situation with Michaelia Cash, simply because Michaelia Cash then misled the Parliament with the denials that subsequently happened. So on that basis, I think she has to go. But you actually think that there’s a substantive difference between a staffer tipping off a raid by the AFP of a union premises and the very equally in my view serious matter of a staffer – who did resign for it, by the way – tipping off protesters, putting the alternative prime minister in physical harm’s way. I think that’s a pretty thin line to draw a distinction. The distinction that cost the Minister her job rather than cost the Prime Minister her job is that only one of those two MPs – well, senator and MP – went on to mislead the parliament.
LEIGH: Peter, we can debate the seriousness of the issue, but you’re right to talk about the misleading of the parliament. This has traditionally been a very serious offence and ministers in the past have stepped down for it. People will recall Barry O’Farrell stepping down for misleading ICAC over the issue of a donated bottle of grange. We’ve had this tradition in the Australian Parliament that what you say is absolutely vital. We do hold people to their word. But yes, compromising an AFP raid is serious stuff.
VAN ONSELEN: Alright, let’s get into some of the issues – actually, no. Let’s stick with this. Is Labor going to stick on this if Michaelia Cash doesn’t resign? I mean, there’s a lot else floating around in the political mix and we know tomorrow for example there will be the High Court determination around the fate of some other Senators and MPs, namely the Deputy Prime Minister in particular. If the government hopes to ride this out, as they may, is Labor going to make sure you keep coming back to this time and time again, do you know?
LEIGH: It’s an issue for Malcolm Turnbull as to whether he’s going to keep allowing the shifting of blame or whether he will take responsibility on himself and upon his minsters. Sam Maiden was talking before about John Howard’s attitude towards ministers and it‘s true, he did let his standards slip after his first term. But after coming to office, John Howard was pretty scrupulous in upholding the code of ministerial standards. I think John Howard in his first year of office certainly would have seen to it that Michaelia Cash step down over actions such as this.
VAN ONSELEN: Ok, let me ask you about this issue, about your claim of it coming out that not one cent has been delivered in terms of multinational tax avoidance being dealt with by this government. What has been uncovered there in Senate estimates?
LEIGH: It’s not my claim – it’s the Australian Tax Office’s answer to a question put by my colleague Chris Ketter, who simply asked the question: ‘of the $4 billion of additional revenue from multinational tax dodging the government has been crowing about, how much was due to the government’s multinational anti-avoidance law?’. The answer came back in one word: ‘nil’. The government talks a big game on multinational tax avoidance but actually if they’d had their way when they voted against Labor’s toughening up of the laws in 2012, the budget would be hundreds of millions of dollars worse off-
VAN ONSELEN: A follow up question on that, Dr Leigh. It’s nil – I accept that. That was uncovered in the Senate estimates process. What did the budget papers predict it to be by this point in time?
LEIGH: Most of the measures the government have put in place have been unquantifiable. They’ve been talking a big game on this. But the measures that are delivering revenue are Labor measures. So you take the Chevron decision - $340 million of additional tax paid to the budget bottom line earlier this year by Chevron. That occurred as a result of Labor’s 2012 laws, which Kelly O’Dwyer, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull and the rest voted against. If they’d had their way in 2012, the budget would be $340 million worse off. We know the budget’s in a bad shape. Any of your viewers that have done their tax return early would have gotten back that tax receipt which says at the top that gross debt now exceeds half a trillion dollars. It’s a huge level, growing almost $5000 per Australian since the Coalition has come to office. They’re sending debt through the roof and they want to make the problem worse by giving big business tax cuts to their mates, and to the very same multinationals who ought to be paying their fair share.
VAN ONSELEN: Dr Andrew Leigh, we always appreciate your time. I’ll let you get down to Aussies and buy yourself a razor. Thanks for that.
LEIGH: [laughter] Thanks, Peter.