The Labor Party thinks it’s found the soft underbelly of Australia’s richest prime minister, attacking Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly during question time on Wednesday over his personal wealth and use of a notorious Cayman Islands tax haven for his investments.
The register of members’s interests shows Turnbull has money in managed funds registered at Ugland House in George Town, Grand Cayman. The corporate tax rate in the Caymans is zero and more than 12,000 corporations have Ugland House as their registered address.
US President Barack Obama has described Ugland House as “either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record”.
Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who is chairing a committee investigating corporate tax minimisation, began the attack on Turnbull, calling Ugland House “one of the most pre-eminent addresses in the world for tax minimisation”.
“How is it appropriate that the Prime Minister of this country thinks it is acceptable to have his investments sitting in the Cayman Islands?” he asked, while conceding that the investments were legal and disclosed.
Labor’s assault on Turnbull’s tax affairs moved to the House of Representatives as a range of Opposition MPs quizzed the PM about his financial affairs.
Turnbull said repeatedly that his overseas investments are “taxed in full in Australia”.
“No Australian tax is avoided. Australian tax is paid in full,” Turnbull told parliament.
Labor has no smoking gun and Turnbull is unlikely to have made any rookie errors on his tax affairs, having been the legal advisor to Kerry Packer during the 1984 Costigan royal commission, which unearthed the so-called “bottom of the harbour” tax evasion schemes.
Turnbull said he invested in the managed funds to avoid any conflicts of interest and his investments are approved under the ministerial code of conduct.
“In order to avoid conflicts of interest almost all of my financial investments are in overseas managed funds which means that I have no say in which companies they invest in,” Turnbull said in a written statement.
As the Coalition pointed out, many super funds also have offshore investments based in the Caribbean, which means many Australians have similar financial investments to the PM, although Turnbull is estimated to be worth more than $200 million.
The thrust of Labor’s push seems to be an attempt to remind voters that Turnbull is not one of them, rather than tripping him up over his tax affairs. It appears to be part of a broader strategy to paint the PM as the minister for the Big End of Town.
The ALP’s assault seemed to flag as question time ended yesterday. Whether they’re return for a second attempt during question time today remains to be seen.
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