There are two particularly extraordinary things happening in Parliament this week that give Australians a telling insight into the Abbott Government.
In the House of Representatives, the Abbott Government is trying to explain why it's reopened loopholes to allow multinational companies to avoid paying tax.
In the Senate, the very same Government is trying to ram through legislation that will make every Australian pay a GP tax whenever they visit the doctor, or extra tax whenever they fill up their car.
It seems as though under Tony Abbott, taxes are only certain in life if you're not a multinational company, with the ability to offshore profits.
There's no doubt that sensible discussion of revenue needs to look at the integrity of Australia's company tax base.
Companies are minimising costs through technological progress, innovation, outsourcing and automation – maximising their performance through sophisticated software and computer modelling.
And because successful businesses are always looking for a competitive edge, some multinational corporations are leading the way in tax avoidance too.
As we've seen in the pages of the Herald over the past few days, these efforts can substantially erode a nation's company tax base. Further, it distorts the market, unfairly disadvantaging local businesses.
This is why, in Government, Labor announced reforms to close these loopholes and crack down on profit-shifting.
We introduced business tax integrity measures that would have clawed back more than $5.3 billion from these companies.
Time and time again, the Abbott Government has moved to water down these provisions.
After delivering the most unfair Budget in living memory, one that has targeted: pensioners, families, students, carers, veterans and the sick – the Government belatedly claimed it would legislate to close multinational tax loopholes.
But as Australians have learnt the hard way with the Abbott Government, the words mean nothing.
And when it comes to cracking down on companies avoiding tax, the Government's actions don't speak loudly at all.
That's because every time Joe Hockey and the Coalition had the chance to work with Labor to close tax loopholes in the past few years, they voted against it.
They voted against Labor's Countering Tax Avoidance and Multinational Profit Shifting Bill 2013, which plugged loopholes in Australia's transfer pricing rules and anti-avoidance provisions.
They attempted to block Labor's Cross-Border Transfer Pricing Bill 2012, which cracked down on companies overvaluing assets in international transactions.
Now they're in government, they've walked away from Labor measures which would have delivered $1.1 billion to the budget bottom line.
Worse still, for all the huffing and puffing at the G20 from Joe Hockey about the need to crack down on tax avoidance, he's signed Australia up to a timetable that puts us behind over 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.
This means Australia won't sign up to the automatic exchange of financial information across borders until 40 other nations are already doing it, leaving Australia lagging behind.
Australia cannot sit at the G20 table and make the case for co-operative international action on this important question if our national Government is winding back legislation and re-opening loopholes for profit-shifting.
This protection racket for corporate tax avoidance comes at a cost to our budget bottom line – and it comes at a cost to Australian business.
While technological developments will mean that the physical location of some businesses matters less and less with each passing year, the principle of paying tax on incomes earned in a jurisdiction must remain.
This is true for the local newsagent, the local tradie and the local pharmacist.
Bricks and mortar businesses earning an income in our cities and regional towns, and paying their taxes. And our computer games developers, iPhone app developers and software designers that are working domestically and marketing globally.
Small business people taking risks for their family and our economy – creating jobs, driving growth and giving back to our community.
They don't have the luxury of avoiding tax through complicated international loans or structures.
This is just as true for many larger businesses, which operate exclusively in Australia.
These companies employ thousands of Australians – and they pay the tax they should pay in Australia.
It is not right that Australian businesses, big and small, shoulder an unfair share of the taxation burden while highly profitable companies who benefit from our skilled workforce, our stable investment environment and our growing economy make only a minimal contribution.
It's not right that the government will look to hit families and workers with new GP and petrol taxes, and cut pensions, before it looks to make multinational companies pay their fair share of tax.
The government has the opportunity to actually do something meaningful here and ensure that companies pay their fair share of tax before hiking up taxes on everyone else.
This piece was published by the Sydney Morning Herald on September 30, 2014.
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