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Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Page: 3527


Mr FALINSKI (Mackellar) (18:50): At the end of 2016, the government was faced with the prospect that working holiday-makers, better known as backpackers, were going to find other destinations more desirable than Australia because changes to our tax law meant that they would be paying significantly higher taxes here than they would in other countries. I will resist the temptation to make the point that high tax rates have adverse implications for our economy and that any party thinking of levying over $200 billion in taxes on hardworking Australians and Australian businesses would be arguing for some very adverse implications for our economy—some would even argue catastrophic implications. Indeed, I will also resist the temptation to point out that those opposite have constantly opposed reducing taxes for ordinary Australians and the Australian businesses that provide work, investment and products to those same hardworking Australians. But, a year ago we found a group of people that they thought did deserve a tax cut. It's a shame they were not Australians.

When the government suggested a 19 per cent tax rate for foreign backpackers, those opposite were outraged that it was not lower. So imagine my surprise when the member for Fenner said that backpackers can, and in fact do, reduce conditions and wages. But still he and his party argued for further reducing the tax burden on this group to 15 per cent. Perhaps he secretly knows that these claims of exploitation are exaggerated. Despite this, I was glad that this parliament could at last come together around meaningful tax cuts. It was just a shame that it was for people who do not live here. It was like opposite day: the Labor Party were arguing for tax cuts and we were arguing for responsible taxation.

The implications of the increase in taxes were well noted by many at the time. The most vocal of those were the many farmers and growers of this great country. They pointed out that backpackers were now bypassing this nation and taking their labour to other countries, such as New Zealand. They preferred to work in New Zealand rather than Australia—that's how serious things had got. It meant reduced production, fruit dying on trees, jobs left undone and farmers scaling back their operations for want of people to do the work. They were not alone. Many tourist destinations said they would be adversely impacted by backpackers not coming to Australia. Many hospitality businesses said they could no longer fill roles in their businesses. In my electorate of Mackellar, on the Northern Beaches, many of the cafes and restaurants that people who come to our area rely on were finding that they could not find people to work and, therefore, had to close, denying people the food and coffee of the fine area of the Northern Beaches. Basically, this tax increase, in an area where people could pick and choose, was reducing our capacity as a country to provide jobs, work and income for many hardworking Australians and their families. So, there we were. High taxes were causing economic damage. The Liberal Party struck a deal with the Greens—the Greens!—to reduce taxes because even the Greens could see that it was a good idea.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Employer Register) Bill 2017 introduces changes to ensure that details of the working holiday-maker employer register are not made public. It also ensures that information sharing between the Australian Taxation Office and the Fair Work Ombudsman is undertaken in situations in which an entity is actually or is reasonably suspected of noncompliance with tax law. Though minor amendments to taxation law, this bill removes the ability for details of employer registers to be made public on the ABN Lookup. This change will not affect the operation of the employer register or the rules applying to employers of working holiday-makers. All employers of working holiday-makers will still be required to register with the ATO in order to withhold the 15 per cent tax rate. The register addresses concerns about the exploitation of working holiday-makers and will provide valuable data on working holiday-makers. This amendment being introduced today does not affect the requirement for the ATO to report this information annually to the Treasurer for presentation to the parliament. This reporting process involves aggregate employer information and will not identify any working-holiday-maker employers. This bill also ensures that information sharing between the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman will be limited to situations in which an entity is guilty of, or is reasonably suspected of, noncompliance with the tax law.

But at the heart of this bill is the underlying principle that our data belongs to us. We live in a world where too many organisations, be they private companies or public entities, believe that they own our data. If we are nothing more, surely we are the sum total of what we have done, said and thought. This information can be used to carefully understand us in order to help and assist us and to ensure that we are not violating our laws and our mutual obligations to each other. Where all of this goes awry is when private companies such as Cambridge Analytica use it to manipulate us and to ensure we do things that are not in our best interests, through carefully crafted, targeted and highly curated information—information that plays to our worst fears, evokes passions and encourages us to ignore reason. This is the danger that we face in the 21st century. We do not want governments or any other entities believing that we and our information belong to them.

The importance of the measures contained in this bill is that they strike a careful balance between what government needs and what we owe—and, more importantly, what we own. Our information belongs to us. Therefore, restricting access and not allowing all the information contained in the ABN register to be publicly available is an important step in attaining this goal. To give teeth to this provision, the TAA Act creates an offence for the disclosure of protected information by taxation officers. To further tighten disclosure protocols in order to ensure that the register is used only for proper purposes, and to give effect to the principle that our information belongs to us, not to government agencies, disclosure could only occur in circumstances where the record or disclosure was of the fact of an entity's actual or reasonably suspected noncompliance with taxation law and was for the purposes of ensuring the entity's compliance with the Fair Work Act.

In summary, this bill ensures that employers are registered with the ATO so that the government can ensure the integrity of the tax system—nothing more and nothing less. It does this by implementing a registration framework for the employers of backpackers; providing the administrative arrangements for tax to be withheld at the appropriate rate for these taxpayers; requiring the Commissioner of Taxation to report annually on the operation of the tax arrangements; and allowing the commissioner to provide relevant information to the Fair Work Ombudsman. I commend this bill to the House.