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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9865


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (16:30): As we know, yesterday marked the six-year anniversary of the Greens joining with the Liberals to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Today will go down in history as another remarkable day when the Greens again have joined with the Liberals to help Australia's richest companies keep their tax dealings secret—selling out on ordinary Australian taxpayers in the process. Not only have the Greens sold out on themselves; they have sold out on everyday Australian taxpayers. Let us be clear about that. This goes beyond their own base but goes to everyday Australian taxpayers. I think that is completely immoral.

The other thing that I think would sit very uncomfortably with the Greens is what their former leader, Christine Milne, would think of this dirty deal that they have done with the Liberals. It was Christine Milne who helped initiate the multinational tax inquiry to start with—and I give her credit for that. The former Greens leader, Christine Milne, certainly has more respect and integrity when it comes to issues of multinational tax avoidance than any Green in this place today, because all of them are selling out on that legacy that she leaves behind—a legacy where she knew that it was not fair and it was not right that hundreds and hundreds of Australian multinational companies were getting away with not paying their fair share of tax.

Let us go specifically to what this deal means for Australians. It means that, in effect, where there was going to be a threshold of $100 million where transparency laws would apply to about 900 private firms, now the Greens, siding with the government, will exempt two-thirds of those companies.

Senator Whish-Wilson: More lies. Shame.

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Singh, resume your seat. Senator Whish-Wilson, you need to withdraw those comments.

Senator Whish-Wilson: I withdraw.

The CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. It is bad enough when there are loud interjections across the chamber, but when senators are in close proximity on the same side I think loud interjections are unfair to the speaker. I ask all senators to keep that in mind.

Senator SINGH: Two weeks ago the Senate sought to restore the previous tax transparency laws. Labor, the Greens and a number of Independent senators demanded that the government bring the tax transparency threshold back to $100 million for all companies so as not to increase the complexity in the system and to ensure that the private and public companies were treated alike. Now, as a result of an enormous backflip, as a result of the enormity of what occurred yesterday, some six years after the Greens joined the Liberals to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, two out of three of the private companies that would have been caught in the tax transparency net will be taken out—thanks to the deal that the Greens have done with the government.

The decision of the Leader of the Greens, Richard Di Natale, is I think a repudiation of the hard work that his own senators had done in the weeks and months prior to protect the tax transparency laws and to ensure big companies were held accountable. This decision flies in the face of their own Greens senators and what they agreed to.

The Australian community and the Greens' own members will be rightly outraged at the new leader's capitulation in the face of pressure from the government. Perhaps it is appropriate that we reflect on the fact that, as I said, yesterday marked that six-year anniversary of the CPRS. In some attempt to become more mainstream the Greens are perpetuating a tax system that Australians see as unfair and which the Greens saw as unfair only two weeks ago. Now, all of a sudden, it is okay because the Greens want to move into this mainstream space—and, looking for relevance in that process, they have decided on some incredibly poor policy outcomes.

As we are all aware, the ATO gave evidence that one in five Australian private companies earning over $100 million paid no tax at all last year. But it is okay for hardworking Australian taxpayers to pay their fair share of tax. They cannot hide the amount of tax that they are supposed to pay. They are hardworking Australians and they pay all their tax, as they should and as we expect all people and companies in this country to do. We do not expect companies to hide their tax. If there is a loophole in the law, let's fix it, let's expose it, let's recognise the lack of transparency and do something about. That is what we did in this place a couple of weeks ago with the support of the Greens and the Independents. What they have done today flies in the face of that commitment that they gave to Australian taxpayers two weeks ago. It is sheer hypocrisy—absolute hypocrisy—when they know that this is not what they believed in only two weeks ago.

This goes to the heart of what the Greens' values are. This goes to the heart of what the Greens stand for and what they believe in. What do they believe in? Who would know? Two weeks ago they believed in transparency for multinational companies; today they do not. Today, the Greens are quite happy to sell out all the Australian taxpayers in this country. Why? Because they want to become 'more mainstream' and more relevant—arising from a fear of becoming irrelevant—or some other bizarre notion that they have concocted. As I have said, I am sure a number of Greens members today are saying, 'Bring back Christine Milne, because she stood for something.' She stood for proper Green values that they at one point held dear.

Now, we do not know what those values are because, let's face it, they have decided, 'Better to shore ourselves up with the Liberals; perhaps one day we'll get in government with them and then we will be really relevant.' Do you know what you will be relevant for? Nothing; because you will stand for nothing. As long as you come in here and backflip all over the place and sell out Australian taxpayers, as you have, no-one will vote for you. No-one will care anymore about who you are, because you do not stand for anything. We on this side of the chamber do stand for something. We stand for fairness for Australian taxpayers and we want to see those multinational companies pay their fair share of tax. They have gotten away with paying nothing—absolutely nothing. That is a disgrace, and it flies in the face of all of those hardworking Australians who day in and day out work hard and pay their fair share of tax.

I say to the Greens that it is not too late; you can actually change your mind again. Do a courageous backflip for once. Do a backflip that actually means something. Go back to your original position—a position which stood for something; a position of integrity—which meant that there would be transparency in our laws for these companies who, for too long, have gotten away with not paying their fair share of tax. If the Greens had not wilted—as I think my colleague Dr Andrew Leigh and our shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen said—like week-old kale, the government would have had no choice but to pass this bill with the transparency amendments included. This would have been the best outcome for the Australian community and for tax fairness—'fairness'; a word which is no longer part of the Greens party after today. Instead, the Greens have delivered the government the votes that they need to gut tax transparency.

Let's just go to the heart of what that means. That means the Greens are protecting the Liberal Party's donors for the next election. All of those big companies—we know them; Philip Morris et cetera—that donate to the Liberal Party are safe and sound thanks to the Greens. So not only are the Greens delivering no tax transparency; they are delivering the government an election outcome. They are ensuring that the government's pot is full for the next election. We know that it is probably less than a year away, so I am sure that they are doing the numbers already. They are ensuring that the Liberals have the money they need from those companies. That is a disgrace. I am sure that is not what those Australians who voted for the Greens thought that they were getting. They would not have thought that that is what they were going to get from the Greens party in this country. After today, I would be very interested to see how the Greens progress in whatever it is that they are going to go forward with in this place, What we have seen today has been absolutely shameful. It has been a disgrace. It has been a sell-out and it flies in the face of anything that I thought the Greens perhaps did stand for. I thought that, at some point in time, they did stand for fairness. But they certainly do not seem to be standing for fairness anymore.

At the heart of all of this what we have wanted to talk about is the need for more transparency and not less, so that we can hold to account those companies that are not paying their fair share of tax. I thought that we had got there, and I thought that this Christmas we would be facing a situation where we had righted a wrong in our laws in relation to companies that were avoiding their fair share of tax. But, after today, if the Greens go ahead and join with the government in voting down what they supported with us only two weeks ago, all has been lost. That would be an incredible shame for democracy in this country and a shame for all of those hardworking Australians who, day in and day out, fight hard to ensure that we have fair and decent outcomes in this country. That is what I thought we were doing in this place—but not so much after today. As we know, that $200 million threshold will mean that fewer than 300 companies in Australia will be covered by this new law. That is an incredible drop from the 900 private firms that this law was going to cover. I think it is an absolute shame, and I ask the Greens to reconsider their position—and save some credibility in the process—so that this country can have fair and decent transparency and companies will pay their fair share of tax.

Senator Conroy: Oh, my goodness. He found the backbone to stand up!