Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Speech in Parliament: Tax & Superannuation Laws Amendment (Employee Share Schemes) Bill 2015 - 27 May 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (10:57): It is my pleasure to speak on this legislation that has such importance about it. We are here today passing this legislation to rectify the damage that was done six years ago in Labor's budget. I will not take up the time of the House to go through each and every measure in this bill; the previous speaker read out most of the explanatory memorandum. The minister outlined the importance of the main changes around options, eligible start-ups and deferral periods.

But we do need to go to the history of this issue—why we are here today and why this is such an important day on employee share ownership for the start-up sector in particular. Those opposite say they believe in employee share ownership. I would say to them: to have credibility, they should acknowledge they made a monumental mistake six years ago—that is what they should do—and not engage in political point-scoring.

The member for Fraser did not quite do that but he knows enough to know that Labor's changes in 2009 were devastating. They snap-froze employee share ownership and they harmed the start-up sector dramatically. That damage has been going on for the last six years, and this legislation repairs what they wrecked. It is important that they acknowledge that if they are to have credibility on the issue.

I welcome the fact that Labor are saying that they are supportive of employee share ownership, but to be believed they have to start with that acknowledgement. We need to go back. The member for Fraser, who is listening and typing intently at the same time, understands this. He mentioned all of those Labor members who he says are supportive, and he mentioned the shadow Treasurer. It was the shadow Treasurer who was then the Assistant Treasurer who carried those 2009 budget measures that were so devastating. If we go back to the media commentary at the time, we had experts in the field from the day after the budget warning of what would happen. Within a couple of weeks of the budget, we had front-page stories in the Financial Review about 450 of the top 500 companies freezing or reviewing their schemes. We had experts across the field pleading with the government to see common sense; but, instead, they stubbornly moved on. The outcome was that employee share ownership, particularly for the start-up sector, was shut down. That was because, as the Minister for Communications outlined yesterday in the matter of public importance discussion, and as the minister outlined, Labor changed taxed options before they could be realised. That made it completely unviable.

The Minister for Small Business and the cabinet have had this legislation as a priority. The announcement was made last year. There has been extensive consultation with the sector on this legislation, and I want to congratulate the Minister for Small Business, the member for Dunkley, for that consultation. I particularly want to mention Employee Share Ownership Australia and New Zealand and the head of that organisation, Angela Perry, for all of her advocacy over what have been a long number of years, for her work on the consultation and for the work that she does with that important organisation.

The member for Fraser made the point that this will help start-ups—and he is right. That is why the government is doing it. But, as I said, the speakers that follow should acknowledge that Labor mucked it up. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. The disappointing thing—and I am passionate about this issue, as you can tell, Mr Deputy Speaker—is that not only did they muck it up, but at no point over their years in government was there any attempt to rectify it. I am not sure whether the member for Fraser was in the parliament in 2009—I do not think so, but the problem here was obvious from day one and it was obvious in ever year of Labor's government. At no point did Labor ever seek to revisit this issue. In fact, they refused to have a conversation about it. And that, I hate to say, is a reflection on the way they approached this policy.

It is true the Leader of the Opposition at the National Press Club, as the member for Fraser said, outlined his support for employee share ownership, and sitting in the audience was the now shadow Treasurer, who was responsible for wrecking it. I want the policy settings in this area to be durable into the future, and that means widespread support and understanding. These changes today rectify so many of those things. I say to the House: these changes are a great step forward, but if Australia is to fully realise the transformative nature of employee share ownership in a way that other countries are in the months and years ahead then, as a parliament, we need to be committed to doing more. I am very hopeful that. As part of the tax white paper discussion, we can look at what else can be done in the years ahead.

I also think it is important in this area that we have in the future an expert panel of people like Angela Perry and key regulators working in a way similar to the Board of Taxation, looking at all the issues that that need to be rectified and promoting the importance and the value employee share ownership. Whilst tax is a barrier—and we are removing some of those key barriers today—so, too, is regulation in the ASIC area in terms of prospectus. Ensuring that we have got the best settings possible is a priority for our economy—it absolutely is. We should have the ambition as a nation to have the best employee share ownership settings in the world. That will take time, but the changing nature of our economy, I believe, demands it. The United Kingdom is very advanced in this area and, of course, the United States is as well, as everyone speaking in this debate would be aware.

Today is an important day. It restarts employee share ownership, particularly in the start-up sector. It is a shot in the arm; it builds confidence. It will provide the platform for other business owners to positively contemplate the possibilities in this area—the benefits for their business, for their employees and for the wider economy. That is why today should be a beginning; it is why, in the months and years ahead, we as a parliament should be looking at what more we can do to assist this area so that we can have vibrant businesses providing the jobs of the future.

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