Retrospective laws undermine the rule of law

One of the most basic principles of the rule of law is that laws are applied prospectively. The importance of this idea is obvious: you can only comply with laws that actually exist. If the parliament passes a law tomorrow, how could you possibly be expected to abide by that law today?

But today, Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury introduced a bill to parliament that proposes to apply changes to the law commencing from a date in the past. The Tax Laws Amendment (Countering Avoidance and Multinational Profit Shifting) Bill 2013 contains provisions that will apply from 16 November 2012.

Bradbury has stated that the law is being introduced in an attempt to ensure that large companies are paying their fair share:

With governments around the world targeting big business in a bid to strengthen their budgets, Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury described the changes as “key weapons in the fight against base erosion and profit-shifting”.

“These reforms will help to protect the integrity of Australia’s income tax system and make sure that large taxpayers pay their fair share,” Mr Bradbury said.

Bradbury obviously believes that the rule of law cuts off once a certain level of income is achieved. Apparently that threshold is around the $1 billion mark for multinational companies because that’s where most of these changes will kick in. Of course, that’s not how the rule of law works. But the Gillard government will try to spin it that way to hide the fact that this is a transparent attempt to plug gaping revenue holes.

This bill has no place in a country that values the rule of law.

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