ABC Weekend Breakfast – Constitutional recognition, digital tax

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Television interview, ABC Weekend Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Constitutional recognition, digital tax

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Now it is time for our Saturday pollie panel spot and this is where we discuss the big political stories of the week. Cabinet Minister Ken Wyatt had promised to put constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians to a referendum. Prominent Indigenous leaders say that constitutional recognition would give Indigenous Australians a voice on issues affecting their future.

JOSH SZEPS: To discuss that subject and more we’re joined in the studio by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and in Adelaide by Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Thanks to both of you for being here.


SZEPS: Let’s just talk about the referendum to begin with. I’ll start with you Trent. I’m a bit unclear at the end of this week about what the Government’s position is. It seemed like Scott Morrison was ruling out in advance putting a question to the referendum that involves an Indigenous body, and then I heard Ken Wyatt the Minister for Indigenous Australians seemingly contradict that?

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think we’re at the very beginning of this process in many ways. We’ve got the Uluru Statement that provides something of a foundation. But what Ken has said in his speech he gave at the Press Club is he will be setting up a bipartisan working group of Parliamentarians to begin the process of actually developing the model that could go forward to a constitutional referendum. And obviously key to that is actually going to be the ongoing engagement that he and the Government have with Indigenous communities. So I think that we’re still at the basic building blocks and we have to build the model up from that. And it’s overshadowed by a couple of principles. We want to make this an important opportunity to fill what is an obvious gap in the Constitution. But I also think everyone is a little bit conscious of the tricky road that constitutional referendums have had in this country. In fact the majority of Australians, anyone under forty, will never have seen a successful referendum passed in this country, which gives rise to a little bit of caution.

SZEPS: Amanda is it essential that the referendum must include a question about including an Indigenous body that would be an advisory voice to Parliament?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think we’ve got to start from the principle of listening to First Nations people. When I talk to Australians right around this country, they say it is time for our First Nations people to be recognised in the Constitution. What that form takes I think we can have that discussion, but we’ve got to start from the principle that the First Nations people got together and put forward the Uluru Statement from the Heart and we do have to respect that. I think we need to keep an open mind, we want to achieve this. And so we need to go forward making sure that people aren’t closing off to where we can get to with this. I think at the heart of it, we need to make sure our First Nations voices and people have a fundamental say in the direction going forward.

IBRAHIM: I’ve just read on the Guardian the Essential poll said a majority of Australians actually support the recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution. And as expected there’s already been some push back on this idea already or on the idea of a referendum, Trent in particular amongst the Coalition members as well. We’ve got Craig Kelly saying that he could possibly start a ‘no’ campaign.

ZIMMERMAN: I haven’t heard anyone actually say that they’re opposed to constitutional recognition within my party or more broadly in the mainstream of the community. What I would say is that I think this is going to be a process that does involve more consultation. It is going to be hard to get a model that’s right. And what I’d encourage everyone to do is to sometimes sit back and take a breath, and what we don’t need is a knee-jerk reaction to every proposal or proposition that comes along. This will only work if there’s genuine goodwill, there’s respect for people that are participating in this process, there’s understanding about the desires of the Indigenous communities, and that’s how we’ll get there. And that’s really, really important.

SZEPS: That sounds very nice Trent. Goodwill, respect, bipartisanship, let’s listen to the Indigenous community. But at the end of the day, if you are going to bother going to a referendum, isn’t it kind of fundamental that it actually has some kind of substantive change? It’s easy for everybody to get on board with the recognition that the Constitution was written by people who didn’t give credence to the fact there were tens of thousands of years of history on this continent. Even your most bigoted redneck is probably going to be okay with that. What’s the point of putting it to a referendum if you don’t have anything substantive?

ZIMMERMAN: I think the outcome I’d like to see from this process is both symbolic but also tangible. That’s the process we have to go through. The Uluru Statement of the Heart not unreasonably said from Indigenous communities that they do want a stronger voice.

SZEPS: So you would oppose the Prime Minister if he wanted to rule that out?

ZIMMERMAN: Whether you do that by constitution or by legislation is obviously a discussion we would have to have.

SZEPS: So you would clash with the Prime Minister on that if he tried to remove that from the referendum?

ZIMMERMAN: No, what I said is that you can either do that by legislation or constitutional change. And that is the discussion we need to have.

SZEPS: Right but if he’s not willing to put it to the referendum, he’s not going to do it legislatively.

ZIMMERMAN: I don’t think the Prime Minister said that at all. I think there’s broad recognition that we do have a voice for Indigenous Australians is important and you can achieve that. That’s what Ken Wyatt has talked about this week, you can achieve that for example through a legislative model. And Ken has talked about some of the great institutions that have been created in other areas, like the Productivity Commission, which have an enduring basis in the Australian legal system that might be a model.

SZEPS: Amanda would that be a compromise? In other words, not putting it to a referendum but just creating an Indigenous voice, an advisory body to Parliament legislatively and not bothering with the referendum?

RISHWORTH: Of course what Labor will do is consult with Indigenous people about the way forward. But the Uluru Statement from the Heart was very clear and that was importantly ensuring that Indigenous people are recognised in the Constitution. I think we need to start from that basis, but also ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders actually have a say in the policy that affects them. It’s really about self-determination and having an ability to have that voice. That was the starting point and we certainly support that. As we move forward in this discussion, we will continue to consult with our First Nations people as well as work with the Government and work with the community on this, because it needs to get done. I think over a decade from the National Apology, this is unfinished business and we need to work towards getting this done. But we must start the process from not dismissing and ignoring our First Nations people. I think after we asked them to get together and the Uluru Statement from the Heart was established, then to have the Parliament and Government dismiss that was deeply upsetting for many. So I think we need to make sure that we go forward ensuring our Indigenous brothers and sisters do get a say in the policies that affect them.

IBRAHIM: Amanda you know over the next few months or the next few years as this debate carries on, it will get quite confrontational, it may get quite heated. We’ve seen that in the same-sex marriage referendum in the past as well. What do you think should be the guidelines? What are the lines here that politicians, the media, the Australian public should keep in mind when discussing this issue?

RISHWORTH: Well you are entirely right, the same-sex marriage debate was very damaging for a number of LGBTIQ young people. We saw spikes in mental health presentations and distress from people. So I mean I would like to characterise this more as a discussion than a debate. I would hope that politicians in particular come with an open mind, don’t rule things out immediately, don’t have knee-jerk reactions and immediately get into their corners. I think I would like to see this characterised more as a discussion than a debate and working with the community, particularly our First Nations community, but of course also the wider community in ensuring that we bring people along with us. But I think immediately getting into our corners and arguing this in a very confrontational debate is absolutely the wrong way to approach it. I think we should be approaching it as a discussion of how we achieve the outcome of actually recognising our First Nations people, because that’s a fact of our history. They were here before us and they need to be recognised in our founding document.

SZEPS: Trent let’s move onto another story, because obviously in recent weeks we’ve seen the Government pass its tax cuts. We’ve also seen the Prime Minister raise concerns about social media companies and whether or not they should be more tightly regulated. One thing that caught our eye was that France is trying to introduce a new tax on big tech companies.

ZIMMERMAN: There’s nothing the French like more than a new tax!

SZEPS: But this is an interesting one. Obviously a tech company can base itself anywhere, they don’t have big factories and so on. So they can base themselves in low-tax environments and pay almost no tax. France is saying that any digital company that has revenue of more than 750 million euros and that generates more than 25 million euros inside France would be subject to a 3 per cent levy. The US isn’t crazy about this. Donald Trump has said that he’s ordering an inquiry which could look at retaliatory tariffs, because they think this unfairly targets US firms. Why shouldn’t Australia have some kind of a levy, a tax for gigantic multinationals who aren’t based here?

ZIMMERMAN: Firstly I don’t think what the world needs now is another outbreak of trade hostilities. I’m not quite sure the unilateral action by France was wise in that regard. The broader point is a legitimate one. Our whole tax system, the whole way in which economies are structured rely, to some degree, on companies actually having a tangible physical presence in those countries. And we’re moving to a digital world where that’s not the case, where a lot of the business is done electronically, companies are headquartered somewhere else, and that can distort the normal tax flow that you would expect from a big, multinational company operating. So, it is a serious issue. The way that Australia has approached it is to by trying to seek a multilateral outcome, and the OECD is leading a process to try and get a consensus about how the world responds to these challenges. It’s due to report next year, and hopefully that will provide a framework for Australia and other countries moving forward.

SZEPS: Amanda, what do you reckon? It looks like the EU is divided on this, because countries like Ireland benefit from the status quo because they have such low taxes for tech companies. But it seems like France may have the backing of the UK, Spain and Austria. If there were a bloc-wide response to this, or even a solution that could go beyond the EU, should Australia be part of it?

RISHWORTH: I think Australia should absolutely be part of the OECD process. I think an international response to this is ideal. The fact that there is an international response working on this to quite a tight deadline of next year recognises that it is a problem. And I can completely understand, especially while individual taxpayers in countries like Australia are paying their tax, then they’re seeing very large companies get away with not paying tax, by being able to use different tax rules in different countries to minimise their tax. So I can understand the frustration and the desire to do something. If we’re not able to reach that agreement, then I think Australia does need to look at its options. But let’s look at an international process first. I mean, I think it’s a good timeline of  trying to reach agreement by mid-next year. The US is actually part of that, so I think that’s a good thing as well, to try and get a solution. But I think the key issue here is it is a problem, we need to find a way to make sure that countries who are consuming a lot of these products are not actually missing out on the tax revenue because of the way companies can structure their affairs.

IBRAHIM: Amanda Rishworth and Trent Zimmerman, thank you so much for joining us.


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