Work on Tax White Paper suspended by PM

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Tax White Paper, Tax Discussion Paper, Tax Green PaperPrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suspended all work on the Tax White Paper last week, Fairfax media is reporting. However senior members of the Government say the white paper process is continuing

Fairfax papers have reported that “stunned bureaucrats” were told to stop all work on the Tax White Paper process, before Scott Morrison was appointed as Treasurer, as part of a “reset” of tax reform.

In response the report Malcolm Turnbull, in a statement on his Facebook page, said:

This story in the The Sydney Morning Herald is not true. We have not stopped work on the tax white paper – quite the contrary, as I said earlier in the week tax reform is at the centre of our efforts to make Australia a more innovative, productive and prosperous economy.

Treasurer Scott Morrison followed this up with a press conference, saying the Tax White Paper process “will continue.” Asked when it would be released he said: “It will be released when we’re in a position to release it.”

Mark Hawthorne, who broke the story, tweeted:

Joe Hockey launched the Tax Discussion Paper, later than expected, in March 2015. Almost 800 submission in response are currently on the Tax Discussion Paper website. This process was meant to inform a Tax Green Paper, followed by a further round of consultations, before a Tax White Paper was released – with proposals to be taken to the next election.

According to the Fairfax report the Tax Green Paper was to be released in seven weeks time. This has now been pushed back to next year.

The Sydney Morning Herald says tens of thousands of public servant hours have been spent on the project, along with hundreds of millions of dollars by businesses and interest groups.

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott were criticised for saying that ‘everything was on the table’ for debate and then quickly ruling out changes to major areas of taxation.

In response to the reports Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said: “Three years of the Abbott-Turnbull Liberal Government will be nothing more than a vast wasteland when it comes to tax reform.”

“The taxpayer has also been stung by millions of dollars, with at least $650,000 in advertising the Tax White Paper, and 5 full-time Ministerial staff (in the former Treasurer’s office) and a Treasury Taskforce of 18 officials working on the Tax White Paper.”

“The latest damaging insider leaks, from officials who were working on the Tax White Paper, show a Liberal Government all at sea on policy direction.” Mr Bowen said.

Last night former Secretary to the Treasury and chair of the Henry Tax Review, Ken Henry, told the ABC 7.30 Report there wasn’t time to build support for tax reform ahead of the next election:

I think there is a case for putting some of these reviews further down the track. Whether the tax review should be put further down the track or not is, of course, a matter for judgment.

If it were me, I would. I would. I think that the present circumstances make it too difficult to develop a sufficient tax reform package. The time is not there.

But it’s not just a matter of time. As the Howard and Costello government demonstrated with the GST, there needs to be 12 to 18 months spent in preparing the ground for the tax reform package; in genuine education of, or at least consultation with, the Australian community – and all sectors of the Australian community. That hasn’t happened. And we’re going to need at least that for this tax reform package.

The next Federal election must be held on or before 14 January 2017.

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