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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 248


Mr BILLSON (7:30 PM) —Thank you for the call, Mr Speaker, and congratulations on continuing in the role. The coalition recognises that merit matters most. It took a little while for some of your own colleagues to get there, but I am very happy to see you in the chair.

Tonight I will use a few minutes to highlight how, on the back of the big carbon tax con on the Australian public, there is another very worrying, very damaging and I think deliberately deceitful campaign that the Gillard Labor government is running. It relates to the attack on independent contractors. There are more than two million Australians who are self-employed and pursue their livelihoods through independent contracting, and they were assured by Labor in writing prior to the 2007 election that there would be no change to the taxation laws relating to their legitimate business activities. Right throughout the term of the Rudd-Gillard government, despite that written assurance of no change, there was much that we could see and point to as a very worrying development for the independent contracting community, but we now learn that much more was going on.

Let me briefly go through what occurred. The Labor Party prior to 2007 wrote to Independent Contractors of Australia and sought to reassure the more than two million people who derive their livelihoods from that legitimate enterprise that there would be no change to the personal services income tax laws that they were operating under. That seemed to make sense. Labor could see the electoral advantage in being quite clear and explicit about its commitment prior to that election. But shortly after Labor was elected to government what happened? Senator Sherry and his Labor colleagues referred the very subject that his team had promised would not be changed to the Board of Taxation, inviting recommendations for change. The Board of Taxation came back with quite an extraordinary set of recommendations that amounted to an assault on the legitimate enterprises and activities of independent contractors right across Australia.

Did the government brush off those recommendations and say: ‘Thank you, Board of Taxation, but this is the Rudd-Gillard government and we have given a written assurance we’ll make no change; therefore, as interesting as your recommendations are, we don’t want to know about them’? No, that is not what happened. Senator Nick Sherry, in his role as Assistant Treasurer, welcomed gleefully these recommendations to turn the taxation administrative and compliance regime for more than two million independent contractors on its head. He said, ‘Thank you.’ He accused independent contractors of being involved in sham arrangements that ‘were a threat to the integrity of the tax base’ as if they were somehow undermining the rights and opportunities of others in the workforce who chose not to be self-employed—as if somehow the opportunities of others were being diminished by independent contractors.

He then went on to praise the union movement for their vigorous advocacy, and we thought, ‘There’s something on here.’ Off those recommendations went to the Henry tax review and, rather than Labor saying to the Henry tax review, ‘We have given a written assurance of no change; therefore don’t place much weight on this,’ they were waved through with excitement and fanfare, with the government sponsoring the very changes they had promised not to make.

What has been revealed in recent weeks, after months and months of the coalition saying, ‘There’s something very pongy and slippery going on here,’ is that our suspicions have proved to be correct. For over a year the union movement has been meeting with Rudd-Gillard Labor government ministers to mount an attack on independent contracting at the very time they had promised the Australian public there would be no change. In that first term of this terrible Labor government they were out doing the very thing that they had said in writing to the Australian public and to independent contractors they would not do.

So what happened in the lead-up to the last election? Independent contractors, the small business community and the coalition were calling on the government to be clear, open and honest about their plans. We said, ‘Will you repeat that assurance of no change?’ They tried to wave it off. In the end, the best answer we could get was that change was not government policy. Yet now, with this task force of union overlords having met more than three times with people including Prime Minister Gillard and senior government ministers and as those very ministers mouth weasel words that this is not government policy at this time, we see revealed in the light of day that there is a plan to do over independent contracting in Australia. I am grateful that the Australian Financial Review and some specialist commentators have taken an interest in this matter. I urge all independent contractors and self-employed people—the two million that derive their livelihood from that mode of engagement—to rise up and say to this Labor government, ‘We know why you hate small business but please don’t do it over again on the independent contracting community.’