Parliamentary speeches

Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 2) Bill 2021

August 11, 2021

I rise to make a brief contribution to the debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 2) Bill 2021, particularly in support of the second reading amendment moved by my friend the shadow assistant minister, the member for Fenner. The bill before the House deals with two issues—firstly, with some changes to the DGR regime and, secondly, with the taxation treatment of offshore banking units. I want to make brief comments on both of these and particularly take up some of the matters that the second reading amendment goes to.

I'll start by talking about the tax changes, which, as previous speakers have noted, are changes that Labor welcomes, in that they are of course a journey back to the future. They effectively take us back to changes put in place under the former Labor government really a decade ago. So we do welcome these changes to the Income Tax Assessment Act in respect of offshore banking units, removing the current preferential tax treatment for them. We also note that the changes here follow some significant criticism of the Australian arrangements by the OECD. Certainly I take seriously the work of the OECD, under its new secretary-general, who might have some experience of how Australia came to be the subject of this criticism, in his former capacity.

But the work the OECD has been doing in this regard and indeed its encouragement for us to act on climate are things that this government should pay great attention to. There is a very big challenge here to tackle base erosion and profit-shifting. Australia should be leading the world, not, unfortunately, continuing in its status as a laggard in this debate. We do need to tackle these issues, for all of the reasons set out by the member for Jagajaga briefly. And, while we welcome this contribution, we can't ignore the context within which it takes place. We have lost time. We have lost momentum. We have lost revenue. We have sent the wrong signals to the community. And we are not positioning ourselves as best we can to maximise our capacity to recover from the COVID recession.

The second issue this bill deals with relates to changes to the charities sector. I guess probably all of us in this place have had a greater opportunity to reflect on the contribution of Australia's charitable sector over the last 18 months than otherwise. I want to pay tribute in particular to the contributions that I have seen in my electorate over this period and acknowledge all of those organisations and volunteers and staff who do such an extraordinary job in supporting communities through this. But it is of great concern to me that the government doesn't recognise—in fact, does more than this, is determined to crack down on—civil society and this has been a consistent theme over the life of the Abbott-Turnbull and now Morrison governments. We have seen attempt after attempt to deny our charities the space they need and the space any decent democracy needs to breathe in their advocacy work to government.

The proposal that the commissioner can be granted this extraordinary power to deregister charitable organisations based on the assumption of the commissioning of a summary offence is something that's quite shocking. It is shocking that it would even be contemplated in a democratic society. It is shocking when we think about the world in which we live right now, where we are seeing a very concerning drift in a number of countries from genuinely democratic regimes to regimes increasingly characterised by authoritarian tendencies. As with multinational tax, this is another area where Australia should be leading the world.

We have much in our democratic traditions to be proud of in this country but over the last nearly eight years, the entire time that I've sat in this parliament, the manner in which this government has sought to deal with the charitable sector is deeply concerning. It shows that, frankly, there is nothing liberal about this Liberal Party; it is a profoundly reactionary organisation. As we have seen through the pandemic, whenever an intervention has been made—and we welcomed many of these interventions, such as putting in place a wage subsidy—it only happens too late and generally after it has been dismissed in the first instance by that tone-deaf person who is presently Australia's Prime Minister. The reactionary nature of the current Liberal Party is much deeper than that. Its commitment to the values that Robert Menzies espoused at the founding of the party is nothing more than words on paper these days and that has been exemplified through the mechanisms that those opposite are seeking to be put in place, which I hope those in the other place will move to disallow.

Our democracy is much, much more than an election every three years. Our democracy rests on a vibrant civil society. It also rests, frankly, on accountability and that is something that we have seen very little of in this place, particularly in the stubborn refusal of this government to put in place a national anticorruption commission to hold members of the executive properly to account for decisions. Obviously I think particularly about the extraordinary rorts of the commuter car park program and, indeed potentially, the wider Urban Congestion Fund, as well as the extraordinary behaviour of the Prime Minister, the minister currently responsible and the minister formerly responsible in not fronting up and taking responsibility for their actions.

This underscores why it is more important now than ever that we support the advocacy activities of our charitable sector and our not-for-profits, that we recognise the voices across this sector, a very diverse sector, which has come together for the last seven or eight years to speak with one voice about the need for them to be able to raise their voice and the voice of the community against executive government to make the case on the widest variety of issues. Charitable activity should not be prescribed by this government, as people like the member for Barker seem to think is appropriate, which is quite astonishing. I hope that the minister, in summing up, will at least correct the record on that.

Australia's government should recognise the value of our charitable sector. We should recognise the decency of Australians as they come together in shared interests with a shared concern to make our society better. We shouldn't seek to prescribe how this is done; we should recognise the value this brings to us. A good government should fundamentally recognise that being tested by advocacy organisations is in its interests as well as in the interests of our democracy. I hope that government members will recognise the damage that they are doing to the fabric of our democracy . I hope they will recognise the damage that they are continuing to do to the fabric of our society, too, in seeking to tell Australians how they should come together. They should get a thicker skin. They should think about the principles of liberalism, particularly members of the Liberal Party in this coalition government ; recognise the values that they should be standing up for ; and recognise the full contribution that our charitable sector and the millions of Australians who participate in it make to our community and to our politics.