Pass mark for the tax change team

By Thomas Pippos

Thomas Pippos. Photo / Supplied.
Thomas Pippos. Photo / Supplied.

For obvious and logical reasons, tax doesn't usually rate high on the public's radar. But for a short time this year, interest in it was roused when the May Budget announced sweeping tax reforms that affected every New Zealander.

Steering the helm from a revenue perspective - but essentially leaving the Budget limelight to Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English - was the Minister of Revenue, Peter Dunne, and his team of officials.

So how did the minister and his team really perform, and what are the other significant tax reforms that haven't received the same level of media attention as the Budget initiatives?

Let's start with the Budget. The Budget tax reforms were essentially about repositioning the tax system to encourage labour productivity and savings, improve the integrity of the tax system, and remove the tax bias toward housing investment - a changing of the signals.

The most significant initiatives were decreasing personal income tax and company tax, increasing GST and removing depreciation on buildings.

At a conceptual level, the steps taken were in the right direction. They were somewhat intuitive but were also courageous. Overall, they were a success.

Aspects of the reforms - such as the removal of depreciation deductions on buildings beyond residential properties - have been justifiably criticised.

Arguably this was collateral damage that sours what was otherwise an appropriate change of direction.

Also unfortunate was the short lead-in time for the increase in GST, although this was somewhat unavoidable.

But what else happened in 2010? Tax avoidance, exacerbated by its emotive connotations, continues to perplex everyone.

The boundary has become even more uncertain over the past few years, and this has its costs.

Despite numerous promises by Inland Revenue that an interpretation statement on tax avoidance will be released, none has been forthcoming.

It is a clear example of unfinished business for 2010.

In the short term, this requires Inland Revenue to simply release an interpretation statement to clarify exactly what it thinks tax avoidance is, how it currently decides on a day to day basis what is and is not tax avoidance. It's not an unreasonable request.

On the positive front, 2010 brought the long-awaited announcement that gift duty would be repealed.

Gift duty is an archaic tax that raises little revenue, but results in significant compliance costs for taxpayers.

The Government's commitment to repealing this tax has been widely and justifiably welcomed.

A further significant development lost on many has been the continuing reform of our international tax rules, designed to help New Zealanders investing overseas compete with their foreign counterparts.

While there is room for further improvement to the reforms, and they can be criticised as being long overdue, they are a positive addition to the New Zealand tax landscape.

- Thomas Pippos is managing tax partner at Deloitte.

- NZ Herald

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