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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 8053


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (21:43): I rise to speak to the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015 with a degree of disappointment in what this piece of legislation attempts to enact. There is a gap between what was possible and what is actually being attempted by a government that seems too afraid of big companies to engage in a proper and fair conversation on behalf of the Australian people and ask the multinational companies to pay their fair share. Australians talk an awful lot about fairness. It is one of the things that makes me particularly proud of this country. The notion that we should all have an equal go, pay our relatively fair amounts of tax and take the resources that we need when we need them is something that Australians believe in and understand.

I think that even the Abbott government, before the Turnbull takeover, had a sense that Australians are actually getting to the point where they are pretty sick and tired of hearing about multinational companies—multinational meaning exactly that, that they can operate across multiple jurisdictions. Multinationals have the power to move their money around—move it left, right, up, down or in whatever way the latest expertise that they can buy tells them they should move it—in order to minimise the amount of tax that they pay in this jurisdiction in which they are making a profit. I know from my time on the Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services with Acting Deputy President Williams that he has a very, very strong sense of justice. I know the Acting Deputy President, like me, would think that in normal transactions between ordinary individuals—people in the everyday community—it is not fair for people to abuse access to knowledge and information. Yet, that is exactly what we see these multinational companies doing.

In that context, where there has been this awakening and this very significant public conversation about getting multinationals to pay their fair share, the Abbott-Turnbull government has decided to have a little bit of a go at addressing this issue of national concern. When I say 'a little bit of a go', I mean 'a little bit' of a go. There is nothing brave about this legislation. Although we will support it, because it is sort of an approximation of an effort in the right direction, it is nothing that is really calling on fairness from these very powerful, very wealthy organisations that should be doing some of the heavy lifting in terms of the revenue needs of this country. This legislation is a little bit like somebody going up to a bigger person—somebody quite significantly bigger than them—tapping them on the shoulder and simply saying, 'Would you mind giving me just a little bit of all that you have?' That is what this legislation equates to: a little tap on the shoulder of big business, of multinational businesses, and asking politely, 'Please sir, could you give me a little bit more?'

The reality is that this is a government that lacks the courage to take on vested interests, and there are a whole range of reasons for that. But it is a government that fails to understand that it is in a position of responsibility, as the government of this nation, to take a fair whack at these businesses that are seeking to avoid corporate and ethical responsibility as participants in an economy—not as people, organisations and businesses that should feel free to fly to another jurisdiction in order to reduce the burden of tax on that particular company, at the cost of so many. I know in the comments that have been made by my colleagues earlier this evening—I believe it was Senator Dastyari who used the term—that tax avoidance, as constructed by these multinational companies, is in fact not a 'victimless crime.' I can imagine leaders of these multinational companies, many of them living in the lap of luxury, are very, very disconnected from the challenging lives of ordinary Australians, who are finding it really hard to make ends meet and all the time paying their fair share of tax.

Let us flick to these multinational companies and executives who run them. You can only imagine the sorts of conversations where they stand there, talking to one another, saying things like: 'We had a great year, last year. We minimised our tax—actually, we got it down to a point where we didn't have any debts to pay to the Commonwealth at all. We got away with it. Would you like to find out where we got our advice?' Then some sort of insider trading referral to companies—often accountancy companies—who are making money on the back of giving unethical advice to multinational companies at the cost of ordinary Australians, at the cost of ordinary working people who are proud to pay their fair share of tax.

They are proud to pay because they know that is going to put books on the tables in the classrooms so that children—their grandchildren, their children and the future generations—can learn to read, write and do arithmetic in the oldest possible way and be able to participate in the global economy. Ordinary people paying their fair share of tax understand that that is what their money does. They understand that it builds roads, makes hospitals accessible and provides the care and support that we take for granted in this great nation. While Australians of ordinary means—regular, hardworking, fair and ethical Australians—are bearing their burden, multinationals are seeking flight to other jurisdictions to abandon any fair responsibility to the nation in which they profit.

Debate interrupted.