Australia moves to Google tax

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison arrives at Parliament House last night to deliver the budget that includes a "Google Tax". Photo / AP
Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison arrives at Parliament House last night to deliver the budget that includes a "Google Tax". Photo / AP

The Australian budget has vastly boosted the government's firepower against multinational tax avoidance as it looks to ramp up revenues to fund tax cut promises.

Canberra hopes to raise up to AU$4.35 billion over the next four years through measures that include a new taskforce led by the ATO, steep penalties for tax dodgers and tighter rules to close loopholes that multinational companies have been exploiting.

The measures will help fund up to AU$5.3 billion in tax breaks announced for small-to-medium businesses, and lower taxes for all companies over a decade.

The announcements will also come in handy politically, as tax avoidance turns into a hot button topic ahead of the federal election.

The government will spend $679 million over four years to establish a taskforce targeting multinationals, private companies and rich people.

The taskforce - to be led directly by the ATO commissioner and staffed by 1,300 tax office workers, will pursue cases of deliberate tax avoidance and evasion.

The government will also beef up its Multinational Tax Avoidance Law (MAAL), which came into effect on January 1, with a new diverted profits tax to impose a 40 per cent penalty tax rate on multinationals attempting to shift their Australian profits offshore.

The new tax is based on Britain's "Google tax" which targets multinationals that avoid paying tax by shifting profits to lower taxing countries.

In Australia, corporate giants including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Apple and Google have been identified as using so-called marketing hubs in Singapore to help reduce their tax bill in the country.

"Everyone has to pay their fair share of tax, especially large corporates and multinationals, on what they earn here in Australia," Treasurer Scott Morrison said.

The new tax, in conjunction with MAAL, could raise up to $650 million over four years from large multinationals. The tax avoidance taskforce, in turn, is expected to raise more than $3.7 billion.

"The message tonight is that Australia now has a whole package of weapons to tackle tax avoidance by large corporates," said David Watkins, tax partner at advisory firm Deloitte. "I can't think of many other countries that have similar measures."

Other measures include putting in place new rules by January 1, 2018 to close loopholes allowing multinationals to exploit differences in tax treatment across different countries. The government will also update laws to close loopholes for related-party transactions to shift profits overseas and reduce tax paid in Australia.

And whistleblowers who help expose companies and individuals trying to dodge the tax man will be given increased protection.

Multinational tax avoidance has been the subject of heated public debate over the past year as global mining and tech giants come under the ATO's radar over the use of various structures to avoid paying taxes in Australia.

"The belief is there is still a lot of income tax revenue that can be recovered," Tax Institute President Arthur Athanasiou said.

"The new rules suggest Australian taxpayers have had enough of companies trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes."


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