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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin): Thank you, Madam Speaker. What a wonderful bill this is. What an excellent bill. I mean, successive Governments down through the ages have made changes to the tax system in the name of fairness, without facts. The idea of fairness can be subjected and manipulated to suit political arguments, but here we have a bill in this House which encourages transparency so the public can debate the merit of tax changes with real facts behind them.

I want to congratulate the Hon Deborah Russell for bringing this to the House and the Hon David Parker for his work on this bill over a long period of time to achieve a bill which actually shines a light on our tax system so that we as New Zealanders can understand how it works. I hear opposite the frustration from the party that would want to defend the interests of the very wealthiest New Zealanders. You heard how often they referenced the wealth report that was done that showed that those earning typically over $20 million—sorry, net assets worth well over $20 million—pay around 8.9 percent as a tax rate as opposed to middle-income New Zealanders, who pay around 20 percent as a tax rate. People know our system intrinsically is a bit unfair. People have always kind of known that, but we haven’t had the facts and they don’t like seeing them out in the public. This bill would seek to make sure that we actually have regular reporting on how our tax system is functioning. So I want to, just quickly in my contribution, look at the schedule at the back of the bill which goes through the different principles. In the select committee we had quite a bit of time going through this with tax experts—I think around about a dozen submissions from tax experts—that helped us zone in together with the help of Sir Rob McLeod on the principles in this bill.

The first focuses on economic income, and it is the principle of horizontal equity—looking at what is the real wealth that people have, not just the wealth they’re currently taxed on but their real wealth and how equal and fair that is looked at across the system.

The second looks at efficiency and, in my view, really gives us the opportunity to say: is the system itself efficiently functioning in a way that removes distortion? For example, is our economy focused on investing in productive assets which we’d all want to increase our exports and make us a wealthier country, a more prosperous country overall.

The third is vertical equity, which looks at progressivity of the system overall. We all know that lower-income people pay a higher portion of their income on taxation. And we all know that actually in real terms, wealthier people pay a bit more of their income typically, although not always, through the tax system. We want to know that the system overall is progressive.

Revenue integrity looks at whether there is coherency in the system, whether loopholes are emerging as changes happen, and then we want to look at the compliance and administration costs—is it hard for taxpayers and Government to comply, does it carry a cost for them in doing it, and how do we minimise that? Then certainty and predictability so that taxpayers can know what they’re likely to have to pay in tax; they can understand their obligations before they’re due. Flexibility and adaptability looks at the way in which the tax system continues to change to reflect current circumstances. Those are the principles in this bill.

I just wanted to spell them out really quickly, to go once over quickly so that people can see there’s nothing to be afraid of in there. What we’re looking at is transparency in our tax system and it’s just astonishing to me that the National Party are arguing against transparency. It is not clear to me, or maybe it is, what they’re trying to hide by opposing this bill. It is astonishing—astonishing. New Zealanders should have a good hard look at this debate, both sides of it—I think transparency is really valuable here—and see those who don’t want you to understand regularly what our tax system looks like and those that would really like everyday New Zealanders, middle-income New Zealanders, to understand how the tax system functions and how those who are in the very wealthiest class, for example, as one outcome of this, avoid paying the kinds of tax rates that middle-income New Zealanders do.

We need transparency in New Zealand. It’s for the long-term good of the system. I want to congratulate again, particularly, the Hon David Parker for his excellent work on this bill, and I commend it to the House.