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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 58

Taxation


Senator KENEALLY (New South Wales) (14:17): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. On 30 April the Business Council of Australia's CEO, Jennifer Westacott, told ABC's 7.30 program that the BCA would campaign in support of the Turnbull government's $80 billion corporate tax cut. It has since been revealed that the BCA's political front group, Centre Ground, is running an astroturf campaign called 'For the Common Good' in support of the corporate tax cuts in South Australia, Queensland and now Tasmania. When did the minister or his office first become aware of the BCA's intention to campaign in support of the Turnbull government's policy in South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, and does the minister support the BCA's decision to use a front group to run a phony grassroots campaign?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senators, I do realise it is the last day. I will call the minister when there is silence.



Senator CORMANN ( Western Australia Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Finance, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council ) ( 14:19 ): I get asked a question about a front group—is that what she said? I'm just trying to remember who was on the founding board of GetUp!. Who made the founding capital donation towards GetUp!? Oh, I think that may have been Bill Shorten. Oops! I can honestly say that I have never heard of that supposed BCA front group; I've got no idea what you're talking about. What I can say is that I've read a press release from the Business Council of Australia, issued today, where they have expressed disappointment that the reduction of our corporate tax rate to 25 per cent could not be legislated today—

The PRESIDENT: Order. Senator Collins, on a point of order?

Senator Jacinta Collins: Yes, on relevance. The question in this one is when did the minister, or his office, first become aware? He said on the face of it he's not aware. We would ask him to take it on notice. We've asked him about his office, and he's not taking it on notice.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, please resume your seat. Senators know I cannot instruct a minister on how to answer a question as long as he's being directly relevant. The question did have a substantial preamble. I believe that at the moment he's being directly relevant to the question.

Senator CORMANN: I can reassure the honourable senator I will take on notice whether my office—I certainly haven't heard of a BCA front group, but I will consult my office.

This is what the BCA said today:

Ultimately, we need the Parliament to adopt the common-sense and fiscally responsible policy to gradually reduce the company tax rate by five percentage points over a decade.

Every day we delay this we are handing opportunities to other countries—who are cutting their taxes—to get ahead, attract investment and create jobs.

We need to put Australian workers first by ensuring Australia has a competitive company tax rate that allows all businesses—small, medium and large—to invest, expand, create jobs and deliver higher—

wages. I couldn't have put it better myself! I commend this press release by the Business Council to the honourable senator from New South Wales—an equally great state. Senator Keneally, I encourage you to read it very carefully. Indeed, I encourage my friends on the crossbench to have a very good look—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cormann. Senator Keneally, on a point of order?

Senator Keneally: Direct relevance. The minister has used up half his time and he hasn't even touched on the second half of my question, which was: does the minister support the BCA's decision to use a front group to run a phoney grass roots campaign?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Keneally, it was a long question. As long as the minister is directly relevant to part of it, he is being directly relevant.

Senator CORMANN: I'm not aware of a front group, and I don't accept the premise of your question just because of your say-so. I would encourage all of my friends on the Senate crossbench to read very carefully the statement the Business Council put out today. It goes to our national interest; it goes to the interest of working families across Australia.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Keneally, a supplementary question.











Senator KENEALLY (New South Wales) (14:22): Has the minister or his office had any input into the BCA's campaign for the corporate tax cuts? Is the BCA sharing any of the data this For the Common Good astroturf campaign is collecting in Queensland and Tasmania with the minister, his office or the Liberal Party?

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! Before I call the minister, I will insist upon silence during questions.



Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Finance, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:22): If your question is whether we engage with the Business Council of Australia as an important peak body, an important stakeholder—of course we do. Do I have conversations with the Business Council of Australia? Of course I do. I would encourage Bill Shorten to have a conversation with the Business Council from time to time too. We know that Albo wants to engage with the business community. Mr Shorten is all about the war on business—

The PRESIDENT: Order. Senator Cormann, you should refer to members of the other place by their appropriate name and title. Senator Wong, on a point of order.

Senator Wong: There are two points of order: the first is the appropriateness of the titles he used; the second is direct relevance. This is about whether or not data obtained by the BCA, through this front organisation, is being shared with the Liberal Party for political purposes. It is a serious question and you should answer it, Minister.

The PRESIDENT: I note the minister has 34 seconds remaining to answer.

Senator CORMANN: I know that the Labor Party's into conspiracy theories. I'm not the Liberal Party. I do engage with the Business Council in relation to—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cormann. Senator Collins on a point of order.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Yes, thank you. Again, this supplementary question refers to the minister's office and I ask him to take on notice the elements of it that he himself can't answer.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, asking a minister to take something on notice is not a point of order.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, while I'm ruling on your point of order, I ask you to remain silent!

A government senator interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I will ask senators on my right to do the same.

Senator CORMANN: The only two front groups that I'm aware of are GetUp! for Labor and the Greens and the Australia Institute for the Greens. I'm not aware of the front group that you are referencing. I know that there are some organisations that are talking against our national interest. We are all about creating more jobs and creating better opportunities for all Australians to get ahead, and we will engage with business, of course, because we want them to be more successful.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Keneally, a final supplementary question.













Senator KENEALLY (New South Wales) (14:24): Given the BCA has appointed former Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane to its new political advisory board, former Howard Liberal Party director Andrew Bragg as its executive director for members—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Keneally, I'm going to ask you to restate the question, because I couldn't hear it.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: On my right! I'm going to ask for silence during questions. Senator Keneally, please restate the question.

Senator KENEALLY: Given the BCA has appointed former Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane to its new political advisory board, hired former Liberal Party director Andrew Bragg as its executive director for members and established a new front group to run an astroturf campaign in support of Liberal Party policy in states undergoing by-elections, isn't it clear that For the Common Good is really 'for the Liberal good'?





Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Finance, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:25): This is getting really quite curious. By Senator Keneally's twisted logic, the Australian Banking Association is a front group for the Labor Party, because a former national president of the Labor Party, in Anna Bligh, is setting up the Australian Banking Association. What you're saying is that because somebody has provided service in a political party—distinguished service like that provided by Mr Brian Loughnane—they're somehow besmirching the work that is done by the organisation they're working for. That is absolutely ridiculous. It is outrageous, quite frankly. I'm now going to say that everything that is done by the Banking Association is going to be done in the name of the Labor Party, by your twisted logic.