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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3710

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (11:37): by leave—I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8304 revised and Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8303 together.

Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 9) omit "$100 million", substitute "$50 million".

Page 3 (after line 14), at the end of the bill, add:

Schedule 2—Financial reporting obligations

Part 1—Repeal of instrument

ASIC Corporations (Exempt Proprietary Companies) Instrument 2015/840

1 The whole of the instrument

Repeal the instrument.

Part 2—Grandfathered exemption

Corporations Act 2001

2 Subsection 1408(6) (table item 7)

Repeal the table item.

Part 3—Application

3 Application

(1) This item applies to a company if, immediately before the commencement of this item, the company was exempted from complying with subsection 319(1) of the Corporations Act 2001 by the ASIC Corporations (Exempt Proprietary Companies) Instrument 2015/840.

(2) Despite the amendments made by Parts 1 and 2, that exemption continues to apply to the company in relation to the 2017-18 financial year.

I've already outlined briefly what they are, but I'll do so again. The first amendment, on sheet 8304 revised, substitutes '$50 million' for '$100 million'. This is the threshold at which we want to see disclosure from both private and public companies. Very briefly, the private senator's bill from Labor is to reduce the current disclosure levels from $200 million to $100 million. We'd like to see that go a step further by reducing it to $50 million.

Can I just say to the coalition senators who got up in this chamber today and said that there's no reason we should be disclosing the tax affairs of some of the most wealthy individuals in this country and some of the biggest private and public companies in this country: in 2015, you supported a Greens amendment to introduce tax transparency into law in this Senate, which passed into law. They supported disclosure of over 218 companies with thresholds the size of $200 million, so why can't they support $100 million or $50 million?

They've said in here today that they won't support this on a fundamental principle, yet they did support this fundamental principle. Let's be very clear about this. They can't come in here and use all these excuses. Senator Hume said, 'It's red tape.' I've already explained that it's not red tape for business. They already have reporting requirements to the ATO privately. There's no red tape involved in having a set of accounts being made publicly available for companies earning over $100 million or $50 million. There's no red tape involved at all. What a totally spurious argument.

Then they tried the old kidnapping clause, that somehow if individuals and companies make their information available then that commercial-in-confidence information, that sensitive information, is somehow going to put them at risk. We thoroughly debunked that in this place. There was no evidence to support that at all. I will have more to say in a minute around getting rid of the grandfathering clause.

They also said that somehow the disclosure of this information is going to be misinterpreted by people, because the fact a company pays no tax is not necessarily illegal. That's not an argument I'm going to have with them. I don't see an issue at all with that. If a company pays no tax and there are legitimate reasons for it, then fine. This is about disclosure. Anyone who understands tax—and the kinds of people who will access these accounts do understand what they're looking at—will be able to see this company's had deductions for depreciation, amortisation, capital investment and all the other stuff that we could talk for hours on. That's not the issue here, and it's not an argument to vote against tax transparency. This is simply to provide a set of accounts that can be publicly accessed by all stakeholders so that we can actually see not only companies doing the right thing, but also that our regulators are doing their job to make sure that companies pay their fair share of tax.

This is a public good piece of legislation for everyone. Let's be really clear about that. It's not going to add to red tape. It's not going to put at risk individuals in these companies, because somehow they're disclosing their private affairs. The government's already supported tax transparency for companies over $200 million. They can't provide any decent reasons why they won't support the $100 million threshold or the Greens' $50 million threshold. It's the same fundamental principle, so let's not hear any more about that.

In relation to the grandfathering clause, which the Greens have introduced in an amendment to on sheet 8303—financial reporting obligations are under schedule 2, and the grandfathering exemption is part 2 of that sheet under the Corporations Act 2001. As I said, this is an archaic throwback to Mr Paul Keating's government in 1995, that basically cut a deal to allow 1,500 high net worth individuals to not provide their annual statements to ASIC. There can be no reason for this if we're having a debate around tax transparency. The Greens support removing it. I understand that Labor will too, and I certainly hope the crossbench come on board with this. The same spurious arguments being made by the Liberal Party about lack of disclosure will not hold. This is something that I think all Australians want to see. I commend both these amendments to the chamber.