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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9885

Senator MUIR (Victoria) (17:54): I hope we are getting towards the end of this. The Leader of the Greens does not have much voice left.

Senator Conroy: Voice and integrity.

Senator MUIR: Just stay there, please, Senator Conroy, you do need to listen to what I have to say. I rise to talk about some amendments that I am moving today on the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. I intend on moving two amendments. In an effort to save time during this debate, I would like to discuss them both now as they are related. Right from the start of this debate, my concerns have been directly related to the issue of privacy. This should be no surprise to those who have been following my work to hear this. My amendment will ensure that a successful small business is not unintentionally caught up in this legislation. My amendment in this area seeks to use the existing definition under the Corporations Act as a safety net.

The Corporations Act has a distinction between large and small proprietary companies. That distinction determines which businesses must disclose their financial information publicly. This disclosure is made via the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, otherwise known as ASIC. ASIC then publish this information on their website and it is available to the public for a small fee. Only large proprietary companies have this disclosure obligation to ASIC; small proprietary companies are exempt. I sought to apply this standard to these amendments to ensure that if a limited view of the company's tax information were to be displayed by the ATO, the full financial picture would be then available via ASIC. This was to minimise the risk of any public misunderstanding.

In addition to this, I also sought to educate the public viewing this information, that the full financial information is required to better understand what they were looking at on the ATO website. I sought to do this via a disclaimer on the ATO website. I even went as far as requiring a direct website link to the full financial information on the ASIC website. This was all done in an attempt to present this information in a fair and balanced way.

I have attempted to work with the government and the Greens on these issues today. I had been hopeful that the Greens and the government could see the common sense in this. I do think that the government see merit in this, and probably support it, but due to the deal with the Greens, they cannot. I would have thought that the government would be supportive of an amendment that limits the number of businesses that would be captured by the tax transparency laws but, to my surprise, they do not. This is a significant shift. Who would have thought that it would be me, a senator from the Motoring Enthusiast Party, standing up for small proprietary companies in the face of government opposition. This leads me to the second amendment that I will be moving to this bill.

During my research into this topic, I became aware of a 20-year-old transitional provision, referred to as grandfathering. Around 1,500 private companies enjoy an exemption from disclosing financial information to ASIC when they meet the large proprietary company test. It is my understanding that this provision was intended to only last three years, to allow these companies to transition their accounting practices to those required by ASIC. Rather than enforcing this transition period, governments from both sides have decided to keep this loophole in place.

It is also my understanding that there is a bit of a black market in the trading of the grandfathered entities because of the exemption that they enjoy. There have also been allegations made that a significant amount of these companies are not only large donors to the major political parties but also have contracts with the government. I am concerned about how this affects the transparency of politics and government in this country. The major parties, despite various commitments made over the years, have failed to resolve this issue. Therefore, it is my intent to try to clear this up today.

I understand that the Australian Labor Party will support my amendment to remove grandfathering. I also understand that the Australian Greens would like to as well, but they are committed to the agreement with the government and are now forced to vote against this amendment. I will be very interested to see if the Australian Greens, and perhaps the government, can have a last minute change of heart. The reality is the Greens are the ones in control on this matter. They are the ones that have the bargaining power on this issue. I call on the Greens to work together on this issue and support the integrity in our country's financial disclosure laws, politics and government to close this transitional loophole.

Before I finish, the last couple of contributions I have made in this chamber have been followed by lengthy off-the-cuff-criticism from Senator Conroy. I would like to say to Senator Conroy, through you, Chair, that I hope this contribution attracts a more favourable response, and I look forward to the rest of the debate.