Tax Reporting Transparency

At the very least, in this debate it is good to see that some senators on the Labor side are just as agile and nimble as this government. They are showing a level of agility and—I do not know if 'nimbility' is a word!—nimbleness. 

That is perhaps a word! We have been asking them to do that. We have been asking them just to be a little bit more open minded and to see the possibilities for this nation.  At the very least, in this debate it is good to see that some senators on the Labor side are just as agile and nimble as this government. They are showing a level of agility and—I do not know if 'nimbility' is a word!—nimbleness. That is perhaps a word! We have been asking them to do that. We have been asking them just to be a little bit more open minded and to see the possibilities for this nation. Unfortunately, they have not really applied that agility and that nimbleness to the issues facing the country and the problems and concerns that people have in the real world; they have applied that agility and nimbleness to their arguments that they are bringing to this debate.

I was here only a couple of weeks ago when Senator Dastyari was going around getting the numbers on a particular amendment that the Labor Party had, to do with tax transparency. They were making the argument that it was okay to put this provision in the bill to make everybody with a net worth of more than $100 million be transparent—it was okay to do that—because it is already available. It is already available through ASIC. You can just pay $38, I think it is, and you can get the details. Since then it has become apparent that actually some companies can request not to have that information made public, obviously because they prefer to have their personal tax matters private. And now the Labor Party have a completely different argument: 'We need it because these people are excluded, and there is a list of businesses that are exempt from those ASIC provisions.'

It is, I think, very interesting and very important to recognise that this exemption to ASIC reporting—this is my understanding—was introduced in 1995. Who was in charge in 1995? It was the Labor Party. The Labor Party introduced this particular exemption, and now they are trying to argue against it. They did not even realise it was an exemption a couple of weeks ago, and now they are using it as part of their argument to justify something that they really did not understand. It is clear now that they did not understand, because they did not understand how the law works.

They are being very agile in this debate to change tack on this argument to justify why they need to now continue their position even though the information has changed. Unfortunately, they are not so agile sometimes when it comes to transparency from other organisations. They are very keen here for individual Australians to have to put on the public record their individual tax affairs, even if there is not even a suggestion that they are doing the wrong thing. They might be paying their tax. They might be lodging it on time, doing everything right. They would have to put their personal financial affairs out in the public domain. That is what the Labor Party want to do.

But, even though they believe in transparency in that regard, they completely oppose efforts to improve transparency when it comes to trade unions, or registered organisations. Registered organisations have a very privileged place in our legislative framework. They are protected and exempted from trade practices laws. They have the ability to collectively bargain among their members—much more power than farmers get in that regard—because they are registered organisations under an act. But they currently can hide a lot of information, including director fees and whether or not they have actually lodged their appropriate statements with Fair Work Australia, the relevant regulatory body.

So, a few years ago, we—actually, it was Mr Tony Abbott, in the other place—put forward a private member's bill to increase transparency of registered organisations, to make it a civil offence for a reporting unit not to lodge a compliant full or concise report with Fair Work Australia. That is right; it was not even an offence, civil or otherwise. It was not even an offence under the Fair Work Act for a trade union not to lodge their proper reports with the appropriate regulatory body. We know from certain scandals in trade unions over the past few years that many organisations had failed to lodge those reports.

Guess what the Labor Party's approach was to that bill? Nothing. They did not want any transparency of organisations that get privileged places in our legislative framework and that should be subject to transparency because the members, ordinary workers, ordinary Australians, pay fees every week to be members of those organisations. They deserve that transparency. They deserve that organisation to be fully compliant, but the Labor Party do not want to apply that in those instances.

They do want to apply it to people who happen to have some wealth in our society. I support the statements of Senator Leyonhjelm. I do not think we should be dividing the country in any way. I do not think we should be dividing the country on race, on creed, on background or on income. We should apply laws to everybody equally. If there are people who are doing the wrong thing who have less than $100 million or people who are doing the wrong thing who have more than $100 million, the law should apply to them equally. I believe that every Australian deserves to be equal before the law. If they have done the wrong thing, the law should absolutely come down on them like a ton of bricks.

But we should not seek to make one set of rules for some Australians and another set of rules for other Australians, because there has been no evidence presented here that somehow there is noncompliance or a culture of nontaxpaying in those people earning above a certain amount of income. There is no evidence. We have had a huge Senate inquiry into this issue. It has had hearings all around the country. While certainly that inquiry exposed issues particularly in regard to multinational tax avoidance, there was absolutely no evidence that individual taxpayers in this country are somehow avoiding large amounts of tax or that there are any deficiencies in the powers and privileges that the Australian Taxation Office has to follow up any issues on individual taxpayers.

Without any of that evidence, why would we impose this unequal burden? Why would we do this? One reason, I think, that this is being raised again is an attempt from the Labor Party to reheat another sequel on an agenda here: trying to bring in the Prime Minister. It failed a few weeks ago. They are now trying for the sequel. I would advise the Labor Party that usually the sequels are worse than the original movie. Usually they are not as good, and this one is certainly a poor man's sequel, relative to their attempt a few weeks ago.

Finally, I am a relatively new senator, and it does frustrate me no end when we in this place seek to place a higher bar or a higher burden or greater compliance on individuals in our country than we would on ourselves. If we in this chamber and in the other place think it is appropriate to make public the tax paid, the personal financial affairs and the tax returns of Australians with a certain amount of income or assets, why would we not impose that same obligation on ourselves? I have not seen anyone in this chamber propose that, and I think it is deeply hypocritical for people here to try to impose that standard on other Australians, who have not necessarily done anything wrong, when not a lot of people in this place would be too comfortable doing that. I am not proposing it, but I think that if others want to propose a law for certain Australians they should be willing to apply it to themselves as well.

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