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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8240

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (09:56): This is a significant matter of public interest, beginning a transparency process around potential tax avoidance, and it is not to say that these 1,000 companies are avoiding tax. But we have all agreed that the evidence we have heard through the committee and elsewhere is that transparency is a good place to start. Minister, if you had presented an argument perhaps today or previously that it was a significant amount of red tape for the ATO to construct this register or for these businesses to comply, then maybe that would be a reasonable argument as to why the coalition might decide to put up an amendment to shield wealthy individuals from providing transparency around their tax affairs. But, as we have discovered, go to ASIC—$38—and it is already there in comprehensive information. So how is it an issue to simply have a register of companies, with the ABN and name, total income for the year, taxable income or net income, if any, and income tax payable? In fact we have looked at the potential costs in the legislation and they are not very big. So what is the argument? Why can we not have a register, if that is what the public want?

We heard yesterday from second readers and in committee about the big coalition across this country, not just the Tax Justice Network, which constitutes dozens of community groups and social enterprises and those who want to see this country move in the right direction around good public policy. They want to see parliament taking some action. This is actually a really simple place to start. It is not a silver bullet—I totally agree with that—but it is an easy place to start. I still do not get why you brought the legislation forward in the first place, because there is no reasonable argument. We have dismissed the kidnapping theory. Senator Conroy did a very good job on that last night. He has seen this kidnapping theory come up before. We have dismissed that as being an issue, because motivated kidnappers can access the information anyway and there are lots of other things that could potentially trigger kidnapping. Having these four sets of data on a register is a long bow. We have now dismissed, I think quite thoroughly, the idea that this could affect commercial in confidence for corporations in their commercial spheres, because this information is available anyway through ASIC. In fact it is a lot more comprehensive if you go to ASIC. This is a matter of setting up a simple public policy and giving the community what they ask for—and actually it is not a big ask.

I still do not feel I have an adequate explanation from the minister as to why the government brought this legislation forward in the first place. Can you explain to us here and now why it is in the public interest to shield wealthy individuals from providing transparency around their tax affairs, please?