ASIO has the right to access every phone number you call, to know where and when you called it and to collect your web browsing history. The NSA is reading so many emails and phone messages that whistleblower Edward Snowden says it has millions of “dick pics”.
So you’d be forgiven for thinking that any privacy you still have is a 20th century relic – like Betamax video players, steam engines or cameras that use film.
In these dark times for privacy, however, an unlikely champion has arisen. His name? Joe Hockey. His goal? To protect the privacy of tax-dodging multinational corporations.
It’s not easy to set up complex corporate structures so that revenue earned in Australia is treated for taxation purposes as having been earned in low tax counties like Singapore or Ireland, or in outright tax havens like the Cayman Islands.
Joe Hockey is going out of his way to make sure you can do it in secret, without having to worry about pesky public scrutiny.
The Australian Tax Office, with the backing of the treasurer, is so concerned that multinational corporations won’t like it any more that it denied a Uniting Church freedom of information request to release names of resources companies accused of tax avoidance.
It instead responded with a document in which all of the answers were redacted. When the Senate Economics Reference Committee asked for a full version of the document, tax commissioner Chris Jordan refused, claiming that providing it would not be in the public interest. Our privacy-loving hero Joe Hockey, fresh from voting for mandatory metadata retention laws, gave him the green light.
The transcripts of the Senate committee argument are fascinating. “It would be unprecedented for taxpayer specific situation [sic] to be provided in a public way … We need to be able to have transparent and open relationships with companies. We cannot have a situation where companies argue they won’t share info with us under belief [it will be made public].”
This excuse totally ignores the fact that keeping secrets from the ATO is a crime, and always has been.
So now we have a situation in which the budget is in deficit, tax receipts from transnational corporations are falling and abuse of tax loopholes is widespread.
Isn’t it great that someone is looking out for the privacy of oppressed billionaires?