Transcripts → 2017


Sky News - AM Agenda

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Friday, 10 November 2017

Citizenship of Parliamentarians, multi-national tax avoidance

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Is it a dangerous precedent for the Government to start doing tit for tat referrals in the Parliament?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of tit for tat. It is a matter of the process applying to all Members of Parliament equally, irrespective of which party they are a part of and for the consequences to be the same irrespective of which party you belong to. The proposition that somehow the disclosure and the outcomes out of the disclosure process should be different depending on whether you are part of the Government or you are part of the Opposition is obviously not tenable. I would have thought that Bill Shorten himself, presented with evidence through the disclosure process that some of his own members appear to be in breach of the requirement not to hold any citizenship other than the Australian citizenship at the time of nomination for election to the Parliament would himself want to see the status of those Members clarified.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you accept though that their situations are different? That they recognise they had to deal with it and sought to renounce their citizenships, their dual citizenships, unlike a number of the Coalition Members caught up.

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not the test. You might remember former Senator Malcolm Roberts also asserted that he tried and used best endeavours to renounce his British citizenship prior to nominating for election to Parliament. In the end, what the High Court found is that the requirement is very clear. You cannot hold another citizenship at the time of nominating for election to the Federal Parliament. If the universal disclosure process, which Labor has been calling for, which the Prime Minister has set out how that could work and we are keen to ensure that this is progressed in a non-partisan fashion, that there is a consensus across the Parliament on how this is most sensibly done. But in the end, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot say we are going to have this universal disclosure process, but in relation to Labor Members of Parliament, when there is evidence that some of them were dual citizenships at time of nominating for election to Parliament that somehow we are going to ignore that, but we are going to refer every Member of the Government. That would be an entirely inappropriately partisan way of approaching what should be a consistent process across the board.

KIERAN GILBERT: And well to be fair, the Government has referred its own members. Just to clear this up, you would move within the Parliament, use your numbers to refer the Labor MPs that are in doubt?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are getting way ahead of ourselves now. We support a universal disclosure process. The Prime Minister has put forward the terms on which he believes that could and should happen. There is a conversation between the major parties to explore whether there is a consensus that can be reached. I think it is preferable for there to be a consensus across the Parliament. Certainly across the two major parties to ensure that this is done in a sensible non-partisan fashion. All I would say is that the process should apply equally to all Members of Parliament, irrespective of their party and the consequences should apply equally for any findings that anyone has been a dual citizen at the time of nominating for Parliament at this most recent election, irrespective of which party they belong to. It is not a matter of making partisan choices here. It is a matter of making sure the consequences are absolutely the same for the same outcomes.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, you said you are getting ahead of ourselves, but not too far ahead of ourselves in the sense that we know the situation of a couple of the Labor MPs, like the Member for Braddon. Even she, Justine Keay is quoted in the Tasmanian papers this morning saying part of me sort of thinks that probably it is the only step to really put an end to all of this and completely clarify it. Was the quote i.e. a referral to the High Court.

MATHIAS CORMANN: But this is why I am saying we are getting ahead of ourselves. Surely, having called for universal disclosure himself, presented with information that there is a question mark over the eligibility status of some of his own Members of Parliament, surely Bill Shorten will say the same as Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce and others have said in relation to Coalition MPs, surely he is going to say that the only way to resolve this is by referring not just Coalition Members to the High Court, but also to refer Labor Members to the High Court who are in a circumstance where there is a lack of clarity at best and perhaps even worse some evidence that they were dual citizens at the time the election was called. Surely Bill Shorten himself would agree with the proposition that in those circumstances Labor Members should also be referred.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Greens are saying that they are not going to cooperate on legislation until the eligibility of the Parliament is clarified. What do you say to them this morning?

MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters to the Greens and I am not going to speak to Richard Di Natale here. From our point of view the Australian people expect the Parliament to continue to work. We cannot go on strike. It is important that we work our way through this process. It is important that we get to the bottom of who else, if anyone has a problem when it comes to compliance with Section 44 of the Constitution. There is a process that has been put forward. Hopefully by the time the Parliament returns there can be a consensus reached across the Parliament in a non-partisan fashion to progress that. But in the meantime, I would have thought that the people of Australia expect us to keep working.

KIERAN GILBERT: My colleague in Sky News Business, Leo Shanahan, broke the story that Glencore, the global mining giant paid no tax this year, despite earning more than $10 billion in revenue. How does that work?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In Australia company tax is imposed on profits not revenue. Without talking about the specific tax circumstances of individual taxpayers, a company like that would pay a lot in royalties, their thousands and thousands of employees would all pay income tax. But when it comes to the specific company tax, that is a tax that is paid on profits not revenue. Companies that are involved in a commodity exporting business are on the receiving end of fluctuations in global prices for these exports. When you go through a period of low commodity prices and that is reflected in the revenue that comes to the Government, that is because the taxpayers that are involved either make lower profits or no profits. If you make no profits, you pay no tax. I would have thought that in the future, high levels of tax will be paid in the same way as in the past high levels of tax have been paid. Australia has got some of the most stringent, toughest tax anti-avoidance measures in place in the world …interrupted 

KIERAN GILBERT: Are they being enforced by the ATO? Is the ATO monitoring Glencore for example?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to talk about the tax affairs of individual taxpayers. But let me say the Australia Taxation Office takes a very tough approach when it comes to monitoring compliance with our tax laws, in particular by multinational businesses. There is an absolute strong focus on implementing and executing our anti-avoidance provisions and people can have full confidence in that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, as always appreciate it. We will talk to you soon.