SUBJECTS: Company tax; Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill
THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
TUESDAY 26 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Company tax; Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill
TOM CONNELL: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time today.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you Tom.
CONNELL: Company tax, now when you think of businesses with a turnover of $10 million, they’re not huge companies are they?
DREYFUS: Well they’re obviously smaller than those with a turnover of $50 million, but let’s be clear about this Tom. We have never supported the big company tax cuts that the government has proposed and now passed, up to $50 million. And we are still considering, particularly between the $2 million and $10 million, whether we will in fact support them.
CONNELL: This comment though that was made by Bill Shorten this morning, did it go through shadow cabinet?
DREYFUS: We have got a process, and as I said we are still considering whether or not between $2 million and $10 million is something we might be able to support. But we have always opposed all of these cuts. That is the Labor position. And of course that went through Shadow Cabinet.
CONNELL: So the $10 million to $50 million went through shadow cabinet?
DREYFUS: I’ll repeat again Tom, we are opposed to the government’s tax cuts. We’ve been considering for some time, whether we should soften that in some way and considering the position between $2 million and $10 million so there has been no change in Labor’s position. I repeat, we are opposed to these company tax cuts, and that’s because it’s about fairness. It’s about a choice that the government has made to give company tax cuts, and continue to pursue these company tax cuts at a cost to schools, hospitals and TAFEs where they are cutting and they will continue to cut, and that’s been clear. We are not afraid to have a debate about fairness but Malcolm Turnbull is terrified of it.
CONNELL: Just to clarify, so you’re saying it didn’t need to go through Shadow Cabinet? There was never a consideration beyond $10 million….
DREYFUS: Of course not – we have been completely consistent at all times, that we are opposed to the government’s company tax cuts.
CONNELL: But doesn’t that change a bit once it’s passed in the Senate, once it’s passed up to $50 million, you kind of have to reconsider what you do with that? Because a repeal is a bit different to a support…
DREYFUS: There is no change in Labor’s position. We have always been opposed to these company tax cuts and we remain opposed to them. But as Bill Shorten has indicated, we are considering a position between $2 million and $10 million. But the debate about fairness is one the government wants to run away from. It’s extraordinary to see this out of touch, arrogant Prime Minister and he can’t even bear the ad that has been run against him.
CONNELL: I want to ask you, to get into your portfolio – because it’s been big week or so within security in particular. And this public register for foreign influence that has support now. The point of this, I’m just curious broadly speaking. So anything that might be signed, any deal done, people – journalists – can look at it, draw their own links and ask questions, is that the broad purpose here?
DREYFUS: The broad purpose is where Australian individuals and organisations are lobbying government on behalf of a foreign government or foreign government-related entity or individual, that that be put on a register. But obviously where it is already overt, then by and large that won’t be a problem. The purpose is here to get at covert foreign influence on our politics. It’s an objective that Labor absolutely supports, regrettably when the Prime Minister walked into the Parliament on 7 December last year he put forward a bill that was hopelessly badly drafted. It was much too broad. It would have caught thousands and thousands of innocent Australians individuals and organisations. With pressure from Labor over the last six months, we’ve got to a position where it is a much more focused piece of legislation. That’s a good thing. It’s a more effective bill, Labor supports it.
CONNELL: So how do you treat it if you get into government – you’d have access to this register obviously.
DREYFUS: It’s going to be a public register.
CONNELL: How would you treat it? Would you look at the people on it for example? Keep on top of it, someone starts to lobby you and you say to yourself hang on I saw that they’re registered on this sort of thing. Would you…
DREYFUS: I think everybody needs to know, if someone’s making representations on behalf of a foreign government, that should be upfront.
CONNELL: Because it might be say, an old Labor minister having a chat to you and they’re promoting a certain cause and you’d sort of say look I know you’re on the register by the way.
DREYFUS: Yeah, I want to know about it and so should everyone else when they’re looking at the public statements that are made by people in our politics. Who are they actually representing? This is about transparency in our politics. Labor’s got a very very very longstanding commitment to transparency right across our political system. Regrettably, the government still doesn’t have that same commitment because otherwise they would be bringing forward the third bill in this set of bills which is the electoral donations law which is a ban on foreign donations. That seems to have gone into a black hole – there’s a report of the Electoral Matters committee which endorsed it, it’s bipartisan, it says bring forward the ban on foreign donations, this government wants to continue to rake in donations for the Liberal Party and is not completing the work on making our politics transparent. Because one of the very biggest influences is foreign money.
CONNELL: And one of the changes in the bill that has been agreed upon, the wording is interesting, it talks about executives of a group that are accustomed to following the directions of a foreign government would register, even if they don’t explicitly don’t have to do so. Are we talking there about Chinese companies?
DREYFUS: We’re talking about any companies that are operating particularly in a dictatorship or a one-party state. And I’m not going to name any particular country because..
CONNELL: But that’s fair to say, we are talking about dictatorships and one-party states, being accustomed to following directions. That is sort of the implication?
DREYFUS: Well that’s right – if you look at democratic countries, you have to say that’s not the way corporations are accustomed to behaving. It’s a recognition that political systems across the world are in a great variety, they’re often very different to ours. This bill tries to capture that to make sure that when we’ve got lobbying activities, influences on government here, be it the Parliament or the government, we know where the source of that influence activity is.
CONNELL: So for example, Andrew Robb, he took up a job with Landbridge, described as having close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, he would have had to have registered?
DREYFUS: Well if Landbridge comes within the concept that the bill now has of a foreign government-related entity…
DREYFUS: Well I know about the bill but I don’t know exactly about Landbridge’s circumstances, that’s a matter that’s going to have to wait for further analysis. But we’d be expecting, if Andrew Robb is continuing in employment from Landbridge at $880,000 a year which was publicly revealed, and Landbridge answers the description of a foreign-government related entity, then he would be required to register.
CONNELL: Say it doesn’t answer as that, but it’s the links we’re talking about and that’s…
DREYFUS: And that’s why there is a careful definition, and a quite narrow definition from what the bill originally looked like.
CONNELL: You’d get security advice within that for example obviously.
DREYFUS: Well there’s also now in the bill a scheme that wasn’t in the original which provides for the government to serve a transparency notice on foreign companies or people operating in Australia who are potentially foreign government related to require them to be disclosed as foreign government related entities or foreign government related individuals.
CONNELL: What about John Brumby on the board of Huawei? Would he register?
DREYFUS: The question depends on the status of Huawei and that’s a question that has to be closely examined.
CONNELL: Do you have a view on that question as it stands?
DREYFUS: No because I haven’t myself conducted that close examination of Huawei’s activities. On the face of it, it’s not a state-owned enterprise, it says that it’s owned to a small degree by one of its founders and mostly by its employees. Whether or not it qualifies under this bill, as a foreign government-related entity, that’s a matter for analysis.
CONNELL: Given the security questions over 5G networks for example though and even the cable to the Solomon Islands that appear to be a red flag…
DREYFUS: Well I would expect that decision about 5G to have been made by the government within months and before…
CONNELL: If you know on that then you’d probably draw a link and say…
DREYFUS: Well, before the transparency scheme is set up because this scheme is going to take, we’ve been told by the Attorney-General’s Department, some months to get underway.
CONNELL: Can I just ask as well, journalists affected by a separate part of the legislation – new laws on spying material – how would journalists need to show public interest?
DREYFUS: Well there’s no definition of public interest in the bill, but it’s a well-accepted concept in the law and I think exposing wrongdoing would be top of the list, exposing maladministration. That’s the sort of thing that we rely on the media, on journalists to do and good investigative journalists provide a tremendous service to our community over the years by exposing that kind of wrongdoing and I think there’s an obvious argument there. It’s possible to think of other things that it would be in the public interest to disclose.
CONNELL: What about the other side? What’s an example where they would and should fall foul of the law?
DREYFUS: I think that if a journalist knowingly publishes a classified, top secret document that goes to Australia’s defence, and the disclosure of which damages Australia’s defence or perhaps reveals the identity of a secret source to ASIO, or its possible to think of a whole range of things that would damage us, and there’s no balancing public interest….[interrupted] and there’s no prior publication anywhere else, that causes harm to Australia’s security then that’s a matter that should be prosecuted.
CONNELL: You could have something that causes harm to national security, and also exposes maladministration.
DREYFUS: Well then there will be a difficult choice to be made, and it’s always a difficult question. But don’t think that this is new, Tom you would be aware as an experienced journalist that you’ve been having to think about these issues for a long time. We’ve had secrecy laws that prohibit journalists from revealing secret government information in place for a century. It’s always a difficult question about whether someone in that situation is to be prosecuted. It’s only happened, happily, very rarely in Australia’s history. That’s because journalists generally speaking are very responsible and also prosecuting authorities think hard before they prosecute.
CONNELL: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time today.
DREYFUS: Thanks Tom.