In question time yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull accused Labor of “trying to whip up a class war” over their opposition to the Coalition’s plan to exempt private companies with incomes over $100 million from disclosing how much tax they pay.

Just why the government is steaming ahead with this legislation is largely unclear — there has been no public push for it — although some clues can be found in the submissions to a Senate inquiry into the matter.

Turnbull claimed yesterday the proposed change had “widespread support” — but in fact the inquiry only had a piddling nine submissions. Seven of them supported the change, but at least two of those had input from the one law firm, as Crikey has reported.

The government claims the bill is in response to concern from companies that disclosing this information might put them at a competitive disadvantage from public companies (which have to disclose the same amount of data) or could present a kidnapping risk for the families of the owners of the companies if the financial information is disclosed.

In fact, there is no evidence to suggest these risks even exist. There was only one submission to the Senate inquiry from a company — and that’s the part-US-owned meat company Teys Australia. The rest were from lawyers and lobby groups. So what is motivating this legislative change?

Australian voters are very concerned about the tax avoidance habits of big companies. Right now, the government appears keen to exacerbate this with its anti-transparency agenda on tax. We need more scrutiny, not less, of how big companies manage their tax affairs — and Turnbull is badly missing an opportunity to differentiate himself from the aversion to transparency that characterised the Abbott government.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey