Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Australia's biggest tax cheats

Big companies are supposed to be good for us, right? They make money and pay taxes, allowing the government to fund the stuff we need. Except in Australia, that's just not true: their largest corporations pay no tax:

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, one of the most prominent supporters of the Turnbull Government's proposed big business tax cut, presides over a company that hasn't paid corporate tax for close to 10 years.

The period roughly coincides with Mr Joyce's tenure at the helm of Australia's flag carrier.

Despite generating income of $106.4 billion, the flying kangaroo has avoided paying tax on that bounty since 2009, thanks to Australia's generous tax concessions, depreciation provisions and the ability to offset company losses against past and future profits.

New analysis by the ABC reveals Qantas is not alone — its tax behaviour is consistent with about 380 of Australia's largest companies. ATO corporate tax transparency data — confirmed in email exchanges with company representatives — reveals about one in five of the country's biggest companies have paid no tax for at least the past three years.

The article has a long, long list of large companies who pay nothing, preferring instead to launder their money and play complicated shell games to steal from the public. It includes airlines, banks, mining companies, and media giant APN (which owns the New Zealand Herald). Which makes you wonder whether this happens in New Zealand. It almost certainly does, but unfortunately, we'll never be able to prove it, because while the Australian Tax Office publishes an annual transparency report on how much tax is paid by big business, IRD considers whether corporations are stealing from us to be "private". Which puts them in the position of actively covering up for tax thieves. It also leaves us in the position of not being able to decide appropriate policy, because the public is actively denied the data necessary to judge the scale of the problem.

There's an obvious member's bill here to set up a statutory transparency regime, for an MP who wants to stick it to the tax cheats. Does anyone want to take it up?