Six hundred of Australia’s biggest private companies could finally be forced to publish their high-level tax information, under a new push by Labor to repair a notorious piece of legislation.
Labor will introduce a private senators’ bill on Monday to amend the Taxation Administration Act 1953, to require private companies with more than $100m in turnover to release their tax information to the public annually.
The former Labor government passed similar legislation in 2013 but the provision was dumped by the Coalition in 2015 before the changes could take effect.
The Coalition then passed legislation introducing a higher $200m threshold, in a controversial last-minute deal with the Greens in December 2015.
It allowed 600 of Australia’s biggest private companies to continue to be shielded from public disclosure, because they fell between Labor’s original $100m threshold and the Coalition’s new $200m threshold.
At the time, the Coalition justified its legislative change by claiming some MPs had raised concerns that the publication of private companies’ financial details could expose wealthy business owners to security risks, including kidnapping.
Last month the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, signalled Labor would try to reintroduce its 2013 legislation in this term of parliament.
He also said that, if the Senate did not support the legislation, Labor would take its plan to the election.
The shadow assistant treasurer, Andrew Leigh, said the private senators’ bill would restore the level of transparency that was legislated by Labor in government, before it was wound back by the Coalition.
It would also align the threshold for private corporate entities with that of public corporate entities, by lowering the threshold from $200m to $100m.
“It stands alongside other Labor transparency measures, including disclosure of tax haven activity in government tenders, public reporting of country-by-country reports and protection for whistleblowers who uncover tax dodging by multinationals,” Leigh said.
“With rising inequality and mounting government debt, Labor stands on the side of middle Australia and small business, not millionaires and multinationals.
“Last week we saw the Senate crossbench back in Labor’s access to justice policy to help small business get a fair deal against the big guys. This week, we are fighting for tax transparency to promote fairness and tackle inequality.”
Labor’s renewed focus on the $100m reporting threshold will also revive interest in a secret list of private companies that has enjoyed a tax reporting exemption since 1995, under a deal done by the Keating government during a legislative overhaul.
Guardian Australia revealed in late 2015 the names of 1,498 private companies associated with Australia’s business elite, including the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, that were not required to publish financial reports under the historical secrecy provision.
If companies on the historical exemptions list have an annual turnover of $100m or more they will no longer be able to avoid publishing financial reports under Labor’s planned tax reporting threshold, according to Bowen’s office.