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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4372


Senator DASTYARI (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (16:35): You have to hand it to Senator Whish-Wilson. He is perhaps the only Green I have ever seen who could take a motion with the terms 'the Turnbull government's unfair budget that delivers tax handouts for multinationals and millionaires while hurting every Australian family' and turn it into a soliloquy—

Senator Whish-Wilson: You wrote it—

Senator DASTYARI: I am sorry that English is my second language, Senator Whish-Wilson! You keep going on about this! That was in jest. I withdraw any inference there. I think Senator Whish-Wilson understands that that was in jest.

But to turn a topic like that into a love letter to this government is just disappointing. I get what is going on here. It is obvious. It is the mating dance. It is the mating ritual that is going on at the moment between the government and the Greens. This happens every time we get to the end of a session. All of a sudden Senator Whish-Wilson starts attacking the Labor Party. That is what he does. Then he starts laying the groundwork. Now we know that Senator Hanson-Young and others are in negotiations at the moment about doing an education deal with the government. They have done it before. It happens at the end of every session. There is nothing that the Greens seem to like more than a dirty deal done dirt cheap late with the government. It happens all the time. That is fine. We see this happen at the end of every session.

Let's be clear: the Labor Party voted for the MAAL. But before that we did everything we could to make sure it was going to be a stronger piece of legislation. What we said at the time—and I stand by this—was that it was a bad deal. We had all the cards for those who wanted very strong action taken on international and multinational tax minimisation and tax avoidance. There had been a crossbench coalition of many parties working together, and the Greens had been part of that. All of it came through inquiries, one of which the Greens had a huge role in. I have consistently acknowledged the previous Greens leader, Senator Milne, who was very, very strong on this and actually brought the issue to my attention and to the attention of many other senators over a number of years. At the end of it, there is nothing better for the Greens political party than to snap defeat from the jaws of victory. They did it once again, and they will perhaps do it again on the issue of education. That is really a matter for them. I understand that they are in a position now where they are holding more meetings than the Liberal Party are these days, and the best of luck to them.

The issue at hand is that there is at the moment a fiscal issue when it comes to where we are going to raise revenue and what we are going to spend it on. We had Senator McGrath before using motherhood statements like, 'We believe that people should be paying their fair share of tax.' Everybody agrees with that principle. The debate in this chamber is: what is fair? Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Leyonhjelm and the libertarians have consistently said that people should be paying their fair share of tax. Now, I believe that the libertarian perspective and perhaps my perspective on what is fair for different people to pay is wholly different, though I note that Senator Leyonhjelm's position is increasingly becoming more and more like mine as time goes by.

Senator Smith: It's the ageing process!

Senator DASTYARI: I note that as Acting Deputy President, Senator Leyonhjelm, you cannot comment in a debate or interject! When you reach a debt of half a trillion dollars but are still too weak on taxing multinationals, saying, 'We are going to have $65 billion'—$65 billion!—'in tax cuts for big business', while, at the same time not funding education to the extent it needs to be funded, then you have a government that is lost, a government that has its priorities mixed up and a government that has lost touch in governing for all Australians. It should not come as a surprise. Here we are on the Tuesday of the last week of sitting for this session. We are about to go off for a seven-week break, and those of us sitting here on this side of the chamber are not even clear what the government's position on school funding is going to be 24 hours from now. Why? Because the government itself has no idea.

Let's be clear: in politics, within parties and in the Senate there is always negotiation, and nothing is settled until it is settled. What the government is facing at the moment is not a question of what they have to negotiate with other parties on for the passage of legislation; it is what they have to negotiate with themselves on to actually have a position that is going to be passable. At 5 o'clock today we will be saying goodbye to Senator Back. Formal speeches will be made about his contribution, which I think has been a considerable one in his time in the Australian Senate. I understand that there will be an opportunity to say a few words about him then. But Senator Back came out this week and made it very clear that he has issues with the education policy as it has been structured. Senator Abetz, and Mr Andrews and Mr Abbott in the other place, and others have raised their concerns repeatedly. Why? Because they are highlighting what is their fundamental problem when it comes to priorities.

There are principles that we all agree on, and the facts are these: budgets are about priorities, and governments have to make decisions with limited finite resources. What this motion is saying is that if you accept that as the basic principle then why is it that the actions that are being taken on multinational tax minimisation are still so weak? I have said before that I believe the government has done some good things in this area. I think we are in a better position now because of some of those measures than had we not done them. I believe a lot of that happened because the government was dragged kicking and screaming to that position, but there has been some good legislation. Do I believe it goes far enough? No. Do I believe there is a lot more that can be done? Yes. There is a lot more that can be done. But to turn around and look at giving tax cuts to big business at the same time as having a debate about how you are going to fund schools and not put on the table the resources that are needed to properly fund our schools shows a complete lack of direction and judgement. When it is the government's own members—the government's own backbench—who are raising and highlighting these concerns, it shows how lost and out of touch the government is.

Tax office data from 2014-15 shows that one in three large firms in Australia pay no tax—one in three. That includes 109 companies that pay no tax despite reporting more than $1 billion in total income. Let's be clear: you only pay tax on profit. Those companies have claimed that they have not made a profit. There are companies, including big companies, that have good years and bad years. There are big companies that occasionally do not make a profit and legitimately have a reason to pay no tax. When you see numbers as large as this, the concern is that there are companies—and we know this happens; we have seen evidence of this happening—who are gaming the system and creating a pretence in their books through accounting tricks and strategies. Many of these practices are legal, but some are dubious and some are—I think the term used in the industry is—'sharp practices', where companies give the pretence of not being profitable or where they appear on paper as not being profitable for the sole purpose of minimising their tax obligations. Many companies have done this. We have had Senate report after Senate report and inquiry after inquiry, including one large inquiry with many, many hearings, that has exposed this. Frankly, all the measures that have been taken have not been enough. The government's priorities are wrong, and the government has lost direction.