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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8250

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (12:16): I have to say, Senator Ludwig, yours—I will pay you a compliment—was an exceptionally eloquent filibuster. Senator Bilyk, unfortunately, I cannot say the same to you, but I will pick up one comment that you made—albeit that I am almost indulging your filibuster, and I disappoint those listening to this debate by doing so. Senator Bilyk, in your opening statement, you said that this bill currently before the Senate 'erodes public confidence'. I think that I and the hardworking citizens of Australia are going to disagree with you on that point. Let me tell you why. The bill—for the benefit of those who are listening in on broadcast—that is currently before the Senate is the Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015. I would have thought—and I think the Australian people, quite genuinely, themselves would have thought—that, when a government brings in a law that is all about combating multinational tax avoidance, which is all about ensuring that multinationals that have activity in Australia pay tax in Australia, that would be a good thing. I would have thought that, but, clearly, I am wrong, because Senator Bilyk, as I said, has clearly stated, on the Hansard, that this is a bill that erodes public confidence.

Let me also tell you a little bit more about the bill, because, again, I do not believe that this is a bill that erodes public confidence. In fact, I believe—as does the government and as do, I would say, the Australian people—that this is a bill that is going to ensure that Australians can continue to have confidence in our taxation system.

What do we know? As a government, we know that some multinationals are artificially structuring to avoid Australian tax by booking revenue from Australian sales offshore. What that means is that they have an unfair advantage over our local businesses and over families and small businesses, who have to shoulder more of the tax burden. What does that then do? It undermines the public confidence in our taxation system.

What does this bill therefore do? The Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill, if it is passed—and I would hope that this is a bill that is going to pass this place—will allow the Commissioner of Taxation to treat these large multinationals as though they have a taxable presence in Australia. What that will do is to ensure that they are subject to Australian tax. So, despite what we have heard, in, as I said, the very eloquent filibuster by Senator Ludwig, this is a good piece of legislation and it should have the support of the parliament.

As to the amendment that I understand will be moved by the Australian Greens and to which Senator Ludwig has been referring: Senator Ludwig, my instructions are that you have already asked this question a number of times—and that is fine; as you rightly say, you are entitled to do that. But you have already been provided by relevant ministers with an answer to your question. I am happy, though, to again provide you with the information in relation to your question.

I am instructed that, on 15 October—and that is why, apparently, this amendment is going to be moved—parliament passed a bill to amend the legislation that directs the Commissioner of Taxation to publish confidential tax information of Australian-controlled private companies. The government introduced the amendment because publication of the taxation information of these companies would have effectively disclosed the owners' financial affairs and posed a risk to their position in the market by making key economic information available to their competitors and to their suppliers. And, Senator Ludwig, it is important to note that the amendment has no impact on the comprehensive powers of the Commissioner of Taxation to require companies to produce any information that is relevant to making an assessment of their tax liability. The public disclosure of tax information law will continue to apply to multinational enterprises operating in Australia and to Australian public companies.

The government has made it exceptionally clear that every company and indeed every taxpayer must pay the right amount of tax. To that end, we have tightened the thin capitalisation laws applicable to the amount of interest that may be deducted, and we have introduced new legislation to tackle tax avoidance by large multinational groups.

Senators Whish-Wilson and Ludwig do make relevant points. If you are so concerned about this information—and I understand this has been said several times now in this chamber, and I believe Senator Xenophon also may have made the point—apparently you can purchase it from ASIC for $38. So, there you go.

Senator Ludwig, you also asked some questions about when these laws would commence et cetera. My understanding is that the Commissioner of Taxation is currently working with approximately 80 companies. The Commissioner of Taxation is waiting for this legislation to pass, so indeed that particular person is then equipped with these powers and can set about implementing the law. In answer to your question, the sooner we can pass this legislation and the sooner we can get it through executive council, the sooner the Commissioner of Taxation will be able to undertake what we believe is an important part of ensuring that there remains integrity within the Australian taxation system.