Treasury Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (13:15): The message has to be made loud and clear: if you want a fair society then multinational companies have to pay tax and if you want a strong economy then multinational companies have to pay tax. It sticks in the craw of many hardworking Australians when they pay their tax. They go to work week in and week out, they pay their tax week in and week out and they are happy to make a contribution to society, but what sticks in their craw is when they learn that some of the wealthiest companies in the world and some of the biggest companies operating in Australia are not paying their fair share. Australians are a generous people and they are willing to put their hands in their pockets to pay for the schools, hospitals, roads and ports that make this a great country—a great country in which to do business, to bring up your family in and to run a small business—but what sticks in their craw is when they see that the playing field is skewed so that the biggest companies in the world with some of the largest incomes are not paying their fair share of tax. Frankly, they look at the Turnbull government and they know that the Turnbull government is not doing a good job of reining them in.

Australians reading the newspapers over the last fortnight would see that our country, with some of the biggest gas reserves in the world, is exporting its gas overseas to countries like Japan that are earning more taxation revenue through importation taxes on our gas than governments in Australia are earning on the exportation and royalties from that gas. Something is very, very wrong with our taxation system if this is allowed to occur. The government has to get serious about getting tough on multinationals and they have to do something to ensure that one in three of Australia's largest companies start paying their tax. It is a disgrace that those opposite decry government debt yet, according to the 2014-15 tax office transparency data, one-in-three large firms pay no tax at all. The people that we represent go to work every day and pay their tax and they look at this and they know that it is not fair and it is not right. Something has to change. That one-in-three includes 109 companies that paid no tax despite reporting a total income of over $1 billion. How can that be right? How can it be right that 109 companies with an income of over $1 billion are paying no tax?

We know this because we looked at the tax transparency data—tax transparency data that would not be available to the Australian people had it not been for the actions of the Australian Labor Party when in government introducing the legislation that made this data available. Of course, we did not have the support of the opposition back then in 2013. We did not have their support. There was full-throated objection from every coalition MP. Every National Party MP who now bellows from the government benches about how we have to do more to rein in this excess was standing on this side of the House arguing against our tax transparency laws. They later voted with the Greens, in the last parliament, to water down Australia's tax transparency laws, taking two-thirds of private companies out of the reporting net. They have a very, very bad track record indeed when it comes to putting in place the framework for tax transparency and when it comes to ensuring that multinational companies are paying their fair share.

Comparing the most recent figures for the tax year 2014-15 with the data for 2013-14 shows that the share of large firms paying no tax has stayed unchanged—36 per cent for both years. Under this government there has been no change. This points to the coalition's absolute and abject failure when it comes to cracking down on multinational tax avoidance. Labor led the way on tackling multinational tax avoidance under the Gillard government in the face of blanket opposition. They were not in the boat for ensuring that we could put in place proper multinational tax avoidance laws. The coalition government has had to be dragged into action.

Mr Christensen: Rubbish! What did you do? Why isn't it fixed then?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I hear the member for Dawson piping up. He is a lion in his electorate, but when he comes down here to Canberra he votes for every single one of Malcolm Turnbull's economic policies. He thunders to the newspapers in Mackay and in his electorate, but when he comes in here he creeps into the chamber and votes for every single one of Malcolm Turnbull's economic policies, which are doing his electorate in the eye and he knows it. He is in trouble and he knows it.

Back in 2015, coalition MPs cheered for then Prime Minister Tony Abbott when he stood at that dispatch box and criticised the Australian Labor Party for pointing out the obvious: when you invest in the resources of tax collection, you get a return to the taxpayer and when you invest in resources for tax collection, the government gets a return. It means there is more money coming in the door, which means there is more money available to spend on services and infrastructure for the people of Australia. But on that side of the House they laughed at it. The then Prime Minister said:

… the only idea that they have come up with is spending $100 million more on the ATO to raise a billion dollars.

I know that there are a lot of investment bankers who would look at that and say, 'That's not a bad return on investment, $100 million in and $1 billion out.' That is a pretty good return on investment. Well, those opposite laughed at it. They are slow learners, but within 12 months they were back here doing exactly the same thing. In the 2016 budget, the government did exactly that and decided that they would invest $679 million to raise more than five times that much—$3.7 billion over the forward estimates—to ensure there was revenue coming in the door.

Of course, they mucked it up, and they have not been able to undo the damage they have put in place over the last four years. I have in mind the 3,000 jobs they have slashed from the Australian Taxation Office—the people who are charged with the responsibility of chasing down the tax avoiders, including the multinational companies. They are the people who have the expertise to deal with these issues. The coalition parties—the National Party and the Liberal Party—are giving them all a free go by sacking the people whose job it is to collect that revenue. If you are bringing more money in—if everyone is paying their fair share, including the multinational companies—more resources are available to the government to do the things that Australians are looking to government to do. I have in mind some of the big ideas that have been talked about in this place.

Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, as a keen follower of these things and as a member who represents a regional seat yourself, no doubt you would have seen the government harking back to some of the policies that were put in place by the former Whitlam government in the 1970s, such as decentralisation policies. It was the Whitlam government who really invested in it and had a long-term plan for decentralisation—unlike the current mob, who think decentralisation is a funny graphic on Facebook, and who are stuffing up a program to move a small government agency out of Canberra and into the Deputy Prime Minister's electorate. They think that is an example of decentralisation policy, when it is not. It is monumental incompetence. The member for Hunter, who is in the chamber with me at the moment, has pointed out in precise detail the vandalism that has been done by the Deputy Prime Minister through this strategy. Nearly 50 per cent of staff resigned from the agency, resulting in lost expertise. The member for Dawson laughs at this, but the roosters will come home. This program is going to cost $25 million. It is not just about collecting the revenue; it is about using it properly, and $25 million has been wasted. Can you imagine the number of trainees that we could have put on, the number of apprentices that we could have employed or assisted in regional towns around the country instead of this boondoggle, shifting a small agency to the Deputy Prime Minister's electorate? It is a joke.

If you are going to do decentralisation, you do it properly. You need a long-term plan for what you are going to do for the regions. And it is not just about moving a few public servants from Canberra to a regional city, as useful as that might be. You might look at not sacking so many public sector workers in the first place. I have in mind the recent decision of this government to sack over 200 workers from the Australian Taxation Office in regional towns around the country. Added to that are the number of workers they have sacked from the CSIRO, largely from regional towns around the country. So we have a situation where the Deputy Prime Minister is slapping himself on the back for wasting taxpayers' money and moving a few dozen public sector workers to his electorate. At the same time he is sacking hundreds and hundreds of public sector workers from regional towns all around the country. This is not an example of decentralisation and this is not an example of sound use of taxpayers' money. If you are raising the money properly, you have many more resources available to do things, particularly for people in regional Australia.

I want to say something about the important initiatives of the Labor government which deal with ensuring that every region around the country is connected to a national broadband network and has the communication facilities available that people in city take for granted. The coalition was not content with stuffing up the Labor government's national broadband network by condemning regional towns all around the country to a second-rate copper-based national broadband network, which is going to cost the NBN and taxpayers more over the long term and which is going to deliver them a lesser service than is available to people in the big cities. Not content with that, they stand in question time, as the Minister for Urban Infrastructure did yesterday, and slap themselves on the back for introducing programs which have been a monumental failure.

I have in mind the Mobile Black Spot Program, much heralded by the coalition. Here we are, four years since the launch and 18 months since round 1 of the program. Over 500 base stations were announced. As it has been over four years since the program was announced, you would think that you would have those 500 base stations switched on. Maybe you would allow a bit of time because of the complex engineering work. Maybe you would say 400 of them should have been switched on. Maybe, if you were an absolute coalition supporter with a blind eye to the ill performance on this matter, you would say, 'Okay, fair is fair—maybe it is 300 that are switched on.' No, four years after the commencement of this program, 100 out of 500 have been switched on, and they slap themselves on the back.

More than that, they have not learnt from the mistakes they made in this program. If you were going to badge something as a mobile black spot program, you would think that you would ensure that you were putting base stations in areas which are fixing black spots. It stands to reason that the mobile phone black spot program is going to fix mobile phone black spots. But, as an example of how the government cannot properly use taxpayers' money that they are raising, the audit commission has found that 20 per cent of the funded mobile phone black spot programs did not extend mobile phone coverage. Nor did they improve competition, because they gave the overwhelming majority of these mobile black spot base stations to the incumbent, Telstra, further entrenching their dominant position in regional telecommunications. They cannot be trusted with multinational tax avoidance and they cannot be trusted with the funds raised through addressing it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.