Canberra Doorstop

Subject/s: George Brandis and the Bell Group Affair, Tax reform







Subject/s: George Brandis and the Bell Group Affair, Tax reform

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning. There were farcical scenes in the Senate last night, when the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth George Brandis again tried to cover up his involvement in the shameful Bell Affair.

Just to recall, this is a shameful affair in which the Commonwealth Government, in the form of senior ministers, attempted to cooperate with their Liberal mates in Western Australia to deprive the Australian taxpayer of $300 million in revenue or more. And yet again last night, in farcical scenes, the Attorney-General was trying to redefine the meaning of ordinary English words, saying ‘I can’t recall’ some 22 times just in the first hour alone of his evidence in the Senate.

This is a minister who is either lying or incompetent. And I say that because he is trying to say that he cannot recall having had a conversation with his Western Australian counterpart, Michael Mischin, the Western Australia Attorney-General, over this Bell matter, over whether or not the Commonwealth would intervene in a case before the High Court of Australia. If we have an Attorney-General who can’t even remember having a conversation with the relevant state, Western Australia, with the Attorney-General from Western Australia, I say again, he’s either lying or incompetent. It is long past time for the Prime Minister to direct his Attorney-General to actually explain to the Senate, to start telling the truth to the Australian Parliament, to stop covering up what has happened in this shameful affair. The Australian people are owed an explanation.

Now the other matter I’d like to mention, yesterday the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on Section 18C was delivered and, very significantly, it does not recommend any change to the substantive law - Section 18C and Section 18D.

This is very significant because it’s a consensus by this bipartisan committee that no change should be made to Section 18C.

This matter should now be brought to an end as well. It should be dead, buried and cremated, to use a familiar phrase. It’s long past time for the Liberal Party of Australia to stop inflicting their internal divisions, because that’s all they are, on the people of Australia, and get on with the job of governing. Get on with the job of paying attention to things that matter to Australians, like the cuts to penalty rates for 700,000 Australians, or tax policy, or developing policies about jobs, or trying to bring some coherence to the mess that they’ve made of energy policy.

There’s a whole range of things that actually matter to Australians. Section 18C is not one of them. For years and years and years these internal divisions in the Liberal Party have been driving a completely false debate about Section 18C. What the committee heard in its hearings, loud and clear - the report sets it out - was the continuing need for these protections against race hate speech in Australia. It’s time to bring this to an end.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus, Wayne Swan is delivering a speech today on the Buffett tax, on introducing the Buffett tax in Australia. There is division in the Labor Party about this. Where do you stand?

DREYFUS: No country in the world has a Buffett tax. Labor has some very clear policies on tax reform, reform like changes to negative gearing, reform to capital gains, and reform to tax arrangements for high-end superannuation. These are targeted reforms. These are our policies. These are the policies we took to the last election and no, I don’t think we should be adopting anything that looks like the Buffett Rule. There’s a reason that no country in the world has a Buffett Rule. 

JOURNALIST: What is that reason? [inaudible]

DREYFUS: There’s a reason why no country in the world has a Buffett Rule. That’s because it doesn’t really work. There are far better reforms that we can make to the tax system. We’ve put forward some very clear ones. We’re going to be pursuing those.

No further questions? Thanks very much.