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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7823

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (15:44): I seek leave to make a short statement in relation to the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill 2015, which passed earlier today in the chamber.

Leave granted.

Senator XENOPHON: I did not get an opportunity to speak at that time during the debate on this bill. I regret that and I am grateful to be given leave to make a short statement of two or three minutes. Can I indicate that my position was to support the government's bill with some reservations and some concerns. I felt it was reasonable to exempt private family companies in this country, notwithstanding that they could have a significant turnover, to be exempt from the reporting requirements of this bill.

The principal concern I had was not of kidnapping, which I think was one of the arguments put—conjures up images of Robert Louis Stevenson and the like. I thought that was perhaps fanciful or at the very least overstated. The principal concern I had was that the publication of sensitive tax and income information to the market would put those firms that decide that they want to remain as private companies at a competitive disadvantage, especially in dealing with much larger corporations. An example that was put to me, which I believe is a very credible example, is that those firms that deal with, say, Coles and Woolworths that are food processors. They may have the requisite threshold of $100 million. I do not think it is fair for those companies to be put at that competitive disadvantage in dealing with companies like Coles and Woolworths, who are many times bigger, and put them in a more difficult position.

The Commissioner of Taxation furthermore made clear in comments at a conference in March this year that this law should be 'focused on multinationals as opposed to Australian private companies'. I think that no-one could accuse Chris Jordan, the tax commissioner, of being a soft touch when it comes to pursuing tax avoidance and taking a very active approach in relation to this.

I look forward to examining the details of the government's details of the government's upcoming multinational tax avoidance bill. I also want to flag that I will raise with the Assistant Treasurer and the Treasurer, issues of transparency. I still believe we need to have amendments that target those companies, those subsidiaries of multinational corporations which provide very little information at the moment. I am concerned that many multinationals that operate in Australia with multibillion dollar turnovers do not abide by what many considered to be the Australian legal requirement to produce general-purpose financial statements each year, which is a standard that larger Australian listed companies follow and is information that can be readily available.

As reported by Michael West of Fairfax Media this year, ASIC appears unwilling or unable to compel the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple as well as big pharmaceutical companies to produce anything like transparent financial statements on their Australian operations so that is an issue that is a live one. That is an issue that when the government's very welcome bill of multinational tax avoidance comes up, I believe there ought to be some amendments at that stage and I look forward to working constructively with all of my colleagues to remedy what many consider to be in an anomaly in relation to these multinational subsidiaries and general-purpose accounts.