5 April 2016
Transcript - #2016037, 2016

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB, Sydney Live

SUBJECTS: The Budget, Coalition Government cracking down on multinational tax avoidance and evasion

FORDHAM:

Ah we love those native chip companies. I busted into Chris Smith's studio earlier to eat some, they are beautiful. We should share some with the Assistant Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer, who's just wandered into the Sydney Live studio.

Assistant Treasurer, good afternoon to you.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Great to be with you and I gratefully received those chips.

FORDHAM:

We'll sort some for you immediately. You've come fresh from a Cabinet meeting, I understand?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

That's right. We've all been here in Sydney locked in a room from about ten o'clock until just now.

FORDHAM:

Well this is innovative and agile, the Prime Minister would send you straight in on radio to reveal all about the Cabinet meeting, so this is direct democracy, isn't it what it is?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I think he'd be a little bit shocked if I revealed directly what we discussed in Cabinet, but I am very happy to discuss a whole host of things with you and your listeners, Ben.

FORDHAM:

Alright. Well, broadly speaking, can you tell us anything that went on in Cabinet? Can you even tell us what was on the Agenda?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

We of course, as we always do, had a very robust discussion about a range of issues. We are obviously planning for the Budget at the moment and you would hardly, Ben, expect me to reveal the Budget…

FORDHAM:

No, no I know…

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Given it is being released on the third of May by the Treasurer, I certainly wouldn't be cutting his lunch, that's for sure.

FORDHAM:

Ok. How is the Treasurer and the Prime Minister because there has been a lot of focus on the two of them over the last few weeks or so?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

They're both really good, I mean, they spend hours and hours and days and days together, they work incredibly well together, and have a very productive working relationship and they get on very well. So, not sure where all this speculation is coming from.

FORDHAM:

Is it like some relationships when you spend a lot of time together but you can get on each other's nerves?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, I think everyone has relationships like that. I mean, you know, I love my husband but there are times where, you know, we get on better than other times. But I think…

FORDHAM:

Do you really what to be talking about this here?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Look, I think, well, I think everyone can relate to that.

FORDHAM:

Alright, news poll of the day, you can't avoid this, it follows a pretty ordinary couple of weeks for the Turnbull Government, which shows, what we show today is the, well, 51 – 49 on two-party preferred, not all that encouraging is it, this close to a Budget and an election.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well look Ben, I have never professed to be an expert on the polls, and I'm not going to start now, that's for other people to dissect and look at it. I mean, we're just focused on getting on with the job of Government and I am particularly focussed on my portfolio responsibilities and one of the reasons I wanted to come and have a chat with you today is because obviously, the Government has been making some very significant moves in ensuring that our integrity, our tax base, is very secure and we've made a number of changes in relation to that, to close loopholes to multinational companies that have been exploiting those loopholes potentially to date. The Government brought forward some legislation last year, in December of last year, to increase the powers of the Australian Taxation Office. To make sure that we had country by country reporting so that they've got all of the information that is available to them, that they need in order to raise assessments on these multinational companies, so that they're paying their fair share of tax in Australia and doubling the penalties on those companies that are involved in any tax avoidance and we…

FORDHAM:

So what did you make of the Four Corners report, Monday night, the Australian Tax Office is currently investigating 800 Australians, they say, that have been implicated in this massive leak of documents from a law firm in Panama, and the whole question of this surrounds tax avoidance, right? What did you make of those revelations?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, whenever you hear revelations about individuals or companies seeking to avoid tax they should be paying in Australia, involved in artificial structuring arrangements, engaging in tax avoidance, well obviously it makes me very angry and it makes every Australian angry to think that they might be paying more tax because someone is paying less, but what I can say…

FORDHAM:

Well there is nothing legal about it though, is there?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well what I can say, no, I can tell you is that it is absolutely illegal to be involved in tax avoidance in artificial structuring…

FORDHAM:

So tax minimisation, ok, tax avoidance, not ok?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, tax avoidance is absolutely not ok and it is against the law and the Australia Taxation Office now has, as a result, of our laws, it has the strongest laws in the world, with respect to multinational companies, it's got some of the strongest powers, in the world, no thanks, I might say, to the Labor Party who voted against our legislation at the end of last year. It is no thanks to them that we were able to get this increase transparency increase powers through the Parliament, but we have taken action because we believe it is important to close down these loopholes, and we also have announced, in addition to all of that, a Serious Financial Crimes Taskforce, which is a multinational agency, eight agencies, including the ATO, Austrac, the Australian Federal Police all of whom are working together to make sure that they can detect and prosecute serious financial crime.

FORDHAM:

Let me jump in for a moment. While all of this is important, and you're talking about multinational tax and matters involving offshore taxing arrangements which are probably not something that should be encouraged. What most Australians are aware of, I mean they're conscious of, their own tax, their income tax, GST for example, they're two areas where the government has stumbled. Where, you know GST was thrown up and all of a sudden we were getting everyone in the mood for an increase in the GST then all of a sudden that was off the table. Last week we had the ridiculous situation where your boss, Malcolm Turnbull, announced on a Wednesday that there were going to be income tax powers handed over to the States by Friday, it was dead. So while you are doing all this stuff on multinational tax which may be very, very important, it is hard to get your message through when the taxes that people are most focussed on are getting all jumbled up in the messaging.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well what I'm focussed on is making sure that we can preserve the integrity of our tax base which means that…

FORDHAM:

But can you see what I'm saying though?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Yes, well what I…

FORDHAM:

Are you getting that feedback out there, that there are mixed messages and contradictions going on?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well there's been a lot of speculation…

FORDHAM:

You're not hearing that?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Around increased taxes. We've always said that we would have a sensible discussion with the states and territories around whether or not there were changes they could make to their tax base, in order to potentially look at a tax mix switch which would then involve lowering taxes whether it is state taxes or income taxes or company taxes in order to have a more efficient taxation system. Now the States and Territories have not been keen to reduce their taxes. They've turned around to the Commonwealth and they've said we simply want you to increase taxes. We don't want to take responsibility for raising our own taxes here. We just simply want to spend the money. And we've said to them, well if you want to spend the money, you have to take responsibility for that spending because every dollar, every dollar comes from the taxpayer.

FORDHAM:

We know the history of it but it didn't work out well did it? If we fast forward through your story to the finish line, the finish line was disaster, policy dumped within forty eight hours.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, no, what I think has come from this is real clarity…

FORDHAM:

You reckon?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

…around the fact that the States and Territories can no longer come to the Commonwealth and say we want to simply spend the money and you have to provide it for us and you have to increase taxes, you have to increase the borrowings. That is not sustainable and we are simply not going to do it.

FORDHAM:

Assistant Treasurer, can I tell you? The word clarity is not the word that the man or woman on the street is saying when it comes to government policy surrounding taxation at the moment. It's confusion. They're hearing confusion. They're not hearing clarity.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well Ben, I'd say to you, that there is always fevered speculation in the lead up to any budget. This is part of the life cycle of every government, just before every Budget. Where you have fevered speculation about it, but let me say this, on the third of May. On the third of May…

FORDHAM:

Usually it is the media throwing all this stuff up, I mean on this occasion it's you guys. You guys have been tossing up some of…

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, no, let me tell you, the media have been involved in fevered speculation, Ben and on the third of May we will be delivering the Budget. But what I can say is this, that when we think about taxation, when we think about whether our taxation system is fit for purpose, we think about how we can encourage investment in this country. We want to grow our economy. We want to encourage and reward those people who take risks and employ other people, those small business owners particularly. As the Minister for Small Business, I know the risks that they take in order to employ people and to help grow their business and grow our economy in the process. So when we think about our taxation system, we think about those broader objectives and making sure that we have a taxation system that is fit for purpose today and into the future. We want to have a strong economy and the way that we can ensure that we have a strong economy is to make sure that we get the economic framework right, and that is what we are working so hard on now.

FORDHAM:

Do we know the date of the election? Is that being discussed at the secret Cabinet meeting?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

It's not a secret Cabinet meeting. We have cabinet meetings every week, Ben. Every week.

FORDHAM:

Tell us what is being discussed then.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Oh Ben. Look, we are going to have the Senate return on the 18th of April. The Senate really has got this in its hands. We have asked them to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill. There are over a million people who are involved in construction at the moment. The Labor Party want to run a protection racket for those people who are thugs in the building and construction industry, the people who are involved in industrial disputes that are increasing the costs of everything from building of school halls through to building housing. We say it has got to stop. We have to have…

FORDHAM:

If the crossbenchers don't pass it, then we are off. A double dissolution. It's on.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

The Prime Minister has been very clear. He has said pass this legislation. It's an important economic reform, otherwise we will be forced to go to a double dissolution election.

FORDHAM:

Now, you have become a mother in the last year. Olivia. How's Olivia. She's not yet one?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

She's not yet one. She is just over ten months now and she is going through that lovely teething phase at the moment.

FORDHAM:

Well you'd be used to that type of thing given you have to deal with politicians in Canberra. Now, listen, I've got a packet of the Native Chip Company chips. We love Australian made product of course.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

We do. And we've just made an announcement regarding country of origin labelling which will mean that people, when they go into their supermarkets will know exactly where their product comes from.

FORDHAM:

Good segue. There's a packet of chips for you.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Thanks so much Ben.

FORDHAM:

Great to catch up with you. Kelly O'Dwyer. The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business on Sydney Live.