Big tax plan dropped in one line
Treasurer Joe Hockey has been accused of breaking pledge to get tough new tax on multinational companies’ tax avoidance.
As giants such as Apple, Google and Ikea continue to shift billions of dollars to international subsidiaries tax-free, Mr Hockey appears to have put aside plans to stop them.
“When some taxpayers avoid or minimise their tax in a sustained way, the tax burden eventually falls more heavily on other taxpayers,” a Treasury issues paper said in 2013.
But the department’s actions have spoken louder.
Mr Hockey and currently standing-aside Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos, announced last November that they would not put through a Labor package to combat tax minimisation, despite estimates that it would bring about $600 million back to Australian coffers.
The Treasury said Labor’s plan would impose “unreasonable compliance costs on Australian companies” with subsidiaries offshore.
The loophole known to favour mining companies operating in Australia remains open.
A single line in Monday's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook says: “The government will not proceed with a targeted anti-avoidance provision to address certain conduit arrangements involving foreign multinational enterprises, first announced in the 2013-14 MYEFO.”
It means some companies will continue to get a “double bonus”, as dividends from their international subsidiaries are tax exempt while the interest on borrowings for overseas growth are tax deductible too.
It has led shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh to accuse Mr Hockey of “sneaking in another giveaway for multinational companies” while presiding over a near doubling of the deficit.
“Yet again the Treasurer has shown that he is happy to let big companies off the hook while hacking into foreign aid, schools, hospitals and pensions,” Mr Leigh told Fairfax Media.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insists “no promise was broken” by the announcement in MYEFO.
“Following consultation with stakeholders and the Australian Taxation Office, it became very clear that a targeted anti-avoidance provision would be ineffective,” he said.
“It is important to remember that the proposed changes... were never advocated in isolation, but were part of a broader package to address profit shifting by excessive allocation of debt to the Australian operations of multinationals.
“The government has implemented key elements of this package, including tightening the thin capitalisation safe harbour limits and ensuring the foreign non-portfolio dividend exemption for Australian companies only applies to returns on equity. “
John Passant, a tax expert from the Australian National University, has written the government’s decision not to abolish section 25-90 deductions.
“It is unfortunate in the extreme that the Treasurer and Treasury have listened to a group of rent seekers being unjustly rewarded by not repealing section 25-90. But since this is a government of the 1 per cent that is not surprising and we can conclude in fact that Hockey's bluster about addressing tax avoidance by his rich mates is just that – complete and utter bluster,” he wrote.