WEDNESDAY, 6 MARCH 2019
SUBJECT: The Morrison Government asking the Tax Office to enforce a tax amnesty on dodgy bosses that had not passed Parliament.
LEON BYNER: There’s $6 billion – yes, billion with a ‘b’ - outstanding of unpaid super. Now the Tax Office has admitted that it will waive penalties for hundreds of businesses that have admitted failure to pay super in the wake of what was an amnesty. Now the amnesty didn't get through the Parliament. It’s a year later that the policies being dumped and the Coalition have done a press release recently saying the 12 month amnesty will run from today. But it's not actually happening. So let's talk to the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Andrew, thanks for joining us today.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Leon.
BYNER: When this went through up into the Senate, didn’t you guys reject this?
LEIGH: Absolutely. We have said from the moment that the government announced this legislation, Leon, that we didn’t think it was necessary. There are penalties in place for not paying superannuation, as there should be. Just as an employer who chooses not to pay wages to their workers suffers penalties, so too there are penalties for not paying superannuation. And this bill said that employers wouldn't cop those penalties, which could be up to 200 per cent of the unpaid amount, going back 25 years. Of course, when they told the Tax Office to start enforcing the unlegislated bill, people came forward. But the government should never have been getting the Tax Office to do something that the parliament hadn't agreed to.
BYNER: So will it happen or won't it? So we understand that the - this is where I think is important, because our interest of course is that there are lots of people in SA who probably haven't had their super paid and some of those may have said ‘look, we're guilty of this’. They're expecting an amnesty. Will they get it?
LEIGH: They've got the amnesty, apparently. The Tax Office only revealed this yesterday, according to reports that are in the papers today. It appears that the Tax Office behaved as though the legislation was going to pass the parliament. Then when they decided it wasn't going to pass, they're using their discretion to waive the penalties. It seems a bit rich, Leon. If you're a welfare recipient and you misstate your income, they come down on you like a ton of bricks. But if you’re a boss that hasn’t paid 25 years’ worth of superannuation to your workers, you get away with it. That doesn’t seem fair to me.
BYNER: Alright. So if you get into government, will you instruct the Tax Office to stop waiving these penalties for the amnesty? No amnesty?
LEIGH: We need to get a full briefing on exactly what the Tax Office has done here. The fact is that the Morrison Government has instructed them to behave as though a law has passed the parliament, which they should have known full well was never going to pass. And it’s just typical of the arrogant, high-handed approach of the Morrison Government, thinking they don’t need parliamentary approval for things like letting dodgy bosses off scot free.
BYNER: So the ATO have set up fact sheets, they’ve got amnesty applications, all this - so that's going to happen. So, you're not sure what you'll do until after you talk to the Tax Office, which would have to be after the election obviously.
LEIGH: We've got to get a full briefing on that. We want to make sure that employers aren’t mucked round by this. But the Tax Office should never have begun implementing an amnesty that hadn’t passed the parliament. The government should never have never have asked them to do that. It's simply not fair. I mean, at a time in which we have sluggish wage growth, we’ve got about six billion dollars in unpaid superannuation. We need to treat this issue with all seriousness, not say to people ‘well, you can do the wrong thing for a quarter of a century and then get away with it’.
BYNER: All right, so if you win government - I want to ask you about the business of unpaid super, because at the moment you can ring the Tax Office and you can fill out a form and do all those things. But it's a fairly long process and there's been a lot of questions as to whether the Tax Office has got the resources to get you a result in a reasonable amount of time. What would you do to change that?
LEIGH: Clare O’Neil announced a really important policy on unpaid superannuation last year. That includes the commitment to include a right to superannuation within the National Employment Standards – that means the employee has the power to pursue their unpaid superannuation. We think it's important to beef up the powers that employees have to chase down superannuation, because really, it’s theirs. It’s deferred wages.
BYNER: If we put that responsibility or give it to them as an employee, you would understand that if they dare mention it to some of their bosses, they'll just say ‘well we're working on it and you don't like it you might have to find someone else to work’.
LEIGH: It gives you a chance to stand up or to have your industrial representatives stand up on your behalf, just as they can if employers don't pay wages. We had the 7-Eleven wage scandal coming down a couple of years ago. Everyone treated that extremely seriously – it’s workers being ripped off. I don't see why we ought to treat this with any less seriousness. In fact, because superannuation compounds over time in your account, it's not just that you lose contributions - you lose contributions plus then all of the returns that you would have gotten from that money.
BYNER: Alright. Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, thank you for joining us today.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.