Labor senator urges tax on digital companies to stop them ‘pillaging’ Australian economy

Australia should tax digital companies based on their revenue and extend superannuation to all working Australians, new Labor senator Tony Sheldon has said.

In an interview ahead of his first speech on Wednesday, Sheldon said he would hold technology companies including Uber, Facebook, Amazon and Google accountable for “failing our economy and democracy” and “disrupt the disrupters” by calling for new rights for gig economy workers.

Sheldon – the former Transport Workers Union national secretary – argued Australia was “kidding ourselves” by waiting for the OECD to act because some developed countries have a “vested interest” and are “reaping the benefits” of revenue raised in Australia.

Sheldon championed the digital services taxes in India and France, which levy 6% and 3% of the revenue of digital companies to ensure companies “contribute their fair share of tax”.

“France, like India, has had the courage to implement this simple, transparent tax which tackles head-on the scourge of multinational tax avoidance,” he said.

Treasury studied the introduction of a digital services tax in 2018 but the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, decided to delay action until a multilateral OECD consideration of the issue in 2020, citing concerns about the impact on business and consumers and “the potential for double taxation”.

Sheldon argued that the recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report on digital giants such as Google and Facebook “doesn’t go to heart of tax avoidance questions” and how stop “unfair competition” between Australian-based companies and those that “pillage” revenue out.

Asked about communications minister Paul Fletcher’s suggestion of harmonising the content quotas for Australian and digital companies such as Netflix, Sheldon noted that “harmonisation doesn’t necessarily mean lifting the bar” and free-to-air television stations in Australia have “consistently opposed” content quotas.

“Their cohort is going to find it very easy to turn around and drop that bar, we have a real fight ahead,” he said. “This is a real opportunity to make sure companies like Netflix are delivering real jobs here.”

Sheldon warned that “the basic rights of working people is under threat from the gig economy tech platforms, artificial intelligence and worker surveillance systems”.

“While the Coalition nurtures wreckers of Australia’s world-leading superannuation system, I believe we should extend superannuation to every worker in Australia – including those in the emerging gig economy.”

Sheldon said that people had been “mesmerised” by the “speed, agility and spin” of app-based companies, including by claims people could fly by helicopter to work – a reference to Uber’s announcement of Melbourne as an Uber Air trial site.

“Part of the hype is that governments of all political persuasions have been hoodwinked by these companies,” he said.


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