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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8336

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (16:28): I indicate that I will be supporting this amendment for these reasons. I want to set them out and I want to put this in appropriate context. A few weeks ago, the government's bill exempting companies with more than $100 million in revenue, not in profits, from publishing some basic headline details—essentially of revenue, taxable income and tax payable—was passed. I reluctantly supported that legislation because the argument that was put to me, which I thought had some credibility at the time, was that there could be companies, particularly food processors that may have turnover of $100 million a year or more in their commercial dealings with, say, Coles or Woolworths, that would be prejudiced by the publication of this information. I apologise to the Senate because I did not do my due diligence as I ought to have in relation to that piece of legislation. If you look at what is currently available, if you are a company with a turnover of $25 million a year or more—not $100 million but $25 million a year or more—you are required to provide to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, ASIC, a copy of financial statements and reports.

Today, I spent $38 and got a copy of Teys Australia Pty Ltd—not because I am picking on them, but because they are referred to in the Senate inquiry report on this and they were a company that were good enough to express concerns about that transparency measure. If you look at that, the information given is very comprehensive. It gives statements of profit or loss and other comprehensive income at page 5. It gives statements of financial position at page 6, including current tax liability, and at page 24, in the notes for the financial statement, it actually talks about the level of income tax paid. So it is not as though Coles and Woolies would not have this information if they wanted to find it. I think it is stretching it to say that those companies would be prejudiced in their commercial dealings with Coles and Woolies, because there is, in any event, a requirement to publish this information with a much lower threshold of $25 million.

But I will support these amendments because they take into account that, if there were, in exceptional circumstances, a case where the publication of this headline information of revenue, taxable income and tax paid would in any way be prejudicial to a company, you could seek an exemption from the commissioner. That is why I supported the government's bill in the first place. I do not accept that there is unreasonable red tape with these amendments, for the simple reason that these companies, once they hit a threshold of $25 million—not $100 million—have to provide this information to ASIC in any event. But you need to pay $38 for that. That is the case. I am very happy for the assistant minister to correct me on that if that is not the case, but that is my clear understanding, based on the evidence that has been provided to me.

I will support these amendments. They still keep the integrity of what the government passed several weeks ago intact, in that, if there were any suggestion that a company would be prejudiced by the release of headline information in their commercial dealings with a much larger company in any negotiations, they would still be protected from that—although, for the cost of $38 you can get a hell of a lot of information by going on the ASIC site. I think it is appropriate to pass these amendments. I see these amendments as being within the context of the very good intent of this bill introduced by the government as a result of the very hard work done in relation to this by former Treasurer the Hon. Joe Hockey. I support these amendments. I know the government's position is that this is not relevant, like the general purpose reporting amendment that was passed last night—the amendment that I moved, which was supported by a majority of the Senate—but I say it is relevant because it is all about having a level of transparency, encouraging public debate on the issue of multinational tax avoidance, and making sure that people pay their fair share of tax. I see these amendments within that broader context.

So, for those reasons, I support these amendments. They provide a very important protection in the very unlikely event that there could be any risk to any food processors—for instance, any agricultural company—in their dealings with a much bigger company. And I am thinking of Coles and Woolworths—not that I would suggest that they would behave unfairly with any suppliers, but those allegations have been made. These amendments provide that protection. So, for those reasons, I support the amendments.