BILLS - Treasury Laws Amendment (Black Economy Taskforce Measures No. 1) Bill 2018 - In Committee


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:44): I have a slightly different approach to this than the minister. I appreciate the minister's contribution to the debate. Can I congratulate Senator Polley on one of the more useful and positive speeches that I've heard from the opposition for some time. Senator Polley has a very sensible approach and I think that qualifies her for greater things and perhaps she should be part of Australia's delegation to some international forums, where she could make an equally positive contribution. But the idea of having a review after a couple of years, I think, is a very valid one because not always does legislation get it 100 per cent right. As I understand the amendment—and I want to ask some questions about that shortly—the review proposed has some merit in letting the parliament have a look at it again, having an independent group look at it and make recommendations.

It is pleasing to see support across the chamber for this approach to dealing with the black economy. Over my long years, I have seen examples of people trying to avoid paying taxation, people thinking they're clever in somehow avoiding tax by being part of the black economy. Whilst those who participate in it might consider themselves clever and, indeed, fortunate—and a lot of people, I suspect, would think that they're beating the system so therefore it has to be good—of course, what that means is that the rest of us who pay tax religiously, on time and without any sort of reduction, end up paying those additional taxes which the black economy deprives the country of. And while, like death, tax is inevitable, we do need taxes to actually make Australia work the way we want it to.

We'd never have a National Disability Insurance Scheme if we didn't have sufficient taxes to pay for that scheme. I'm conscious that when the Labor Party first thought of the NDIS, they had no idea of how it was going to be paid for and, fortunately, a change of government brought forward a government that not only endorsed the National Disability Insurance Scheme but actually started work for the first time on how the nation would pay for it and that's an important part of the process. It's alright having great ideas if there's no suggestion of how it's going to be paid for, and you see that all too often. Dare I say, with some political parties in this chamber, you see politicians making these grandiose promises that look good to the average voter. They might say, 'Yes, that sounds like what we want,' but, unfortunately, very often the ordinary voter doesn't understand that these promises, whilst they're fine, have to be paid for by someone and the only way that you can pay for them is by increasing taxes or by deferring payments to other very worthwhile projects. We have lots of examples of that. I know, in North Queensland, Mr Shorten breezes in there on a FIFO visit, announces some grandiose policy that is populist, will be immediately accepted and will get a headline in the local paper, but rarely does he ever say where the money is going to come from and, regrettably, some of the minor parties are very much like that as well. If you read some of the Greens political party policies—and you'd only do that if you were suffering insomnia—you'd see that whilst, superficially, they're not bad and they would attract some populist support, when you ask the question: 'Well, how are we going to pay for that?' Rarely, do you get a sensible answer. You do get an answer, which is, 'Tax everybody more.' But that's said by a party who will never be in government and will never have the responsibility of actually paying for the promises they make.

I must say, just diverting ever so slightly, up my way we have a former parliamentarian, Mr Palmer, in and around the north at the moment, and very often—like every five or six minutes on a TV ad in the local TV media in Townsville—he's talking about a couple of things, one of which is a zone taxation policy. I always say that repetition and plagiarism is a great form of complement, and I'm delighted that Mr Palmer is talking about a zone tax system after I've raised it quite a number of times in this chamber. I've made a very detailed submission to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer about upgrading the zone tax rebate scheme. But Mr Palmer has a proposal, which he does in a very clever 10-second grab in an advertisement. He wants a zone tax payment so that everybody who lives more than 200 kilometres from a capital city pays 20 per cent less tax. That's a great initiative. I have to say, lest my words be misconstrued at some time in the future, that I say that cynically and ironically. Twenty per cent less tax for people living, for example, in Noosa, a beach resort north of Brisbane in my home state. It was a very interesting thing. Of course, it's easy to say to all Australians who live more than 200 kilometres from a capital city, 'Your tax is going to be 20 per cent less.' It sounds like a great policy. Why wouldn't you vote for a man who was promising that? But then the question remains: who pays for it? Does that mean that people who live within the 200 kilometre radius that Mr Palmer is currently talking about pay 20 per cent more? Or do we cut back on our defence forces? Do we cut back on our border security? Do we limit the National Disability Insurance Scheme? Do we limit some of the extensive taxpayer contributions that have gone into developing northern Australia? Do we limit the contribution the Commonwealth government is making to the Rookwood Weir near Rockhampton? All of these questions come up. We have to ensure that the revenue is protected and that the revenue authorities get what is justly and lawfully theirs.

That brings me back to this bill, which is an attempt by the government, with the support of the Labor Party, I see, to try to address the black economy to make sure that all those that are paying tax or that should be paying tax do actually pay tax on their earnings. Having said that, I do want to ask Senator Polley about the idea of the review. I don't have the amendment in front of me, unfortunately, but the review, as I understand it, was to be by an independent group. I'm wondering if Senator Polley might be able to explain to the Senate what the Labor Party has in mind? Will it be one of the major finance firms? Will it be a departmental investigation? Will it be an independent investigation? Who will the people be? As I say, I think the idea is a good one, but I'm wondering what the implementation process of this review might be? Will submissions be sought from the Australian public and from particular stakeholders?

How will this actually happen? I repeat: I think it's a good idea, but I would just like a little bit more information on how Senator Polley suggests that the review might be conducted. Who will be consulted and what sort of professional or technical input will be made into the review?

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