Paul Drum is head of policy, CPA Australia.

There's no shortage of claims on the Government's cash, as reaction to the Budget has amply demonstrated.

Some election promises have had to be pushed down the track, illustrating the inevitable tension between what the Government wants to achieve and what is actually attainable while maintaining a fiscally responsible budget.

This tension and the Labour-led Coalition's palpable desire to create a fairer society will make the work of the Tax Working Group even more important when the Government sets out its electoral stall in 2020.

The present tax base is too narrow, with 90 per cent of all tax revenue collected from three taxes: personal income, GST and company tax.

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An ageing population will impact personal income tax as people exit the workforce, while company tax is under competitive pressure as other nations seek to attract foreign investment by cutting their rates.

If the Government is serious about tackling the very expensive issues of the infrastructure deficit, housing affordability, the working poor and stressed middle class, while still maintaining a balanced budget and reaching its debt targets, then it will need to broaden and boost tax revenue.

The Tax Working Group's job is to come up with a set of recommendations on what is the most appropriate tax system for New Zealand's future. Political considerations will be paramount; radical but not too radical the watchword.

Ways to change the tax regime to boost investment, jobs and productivity will also be a key focus.

Supporting small business will hopefully receive serious attention, given the sector's importance to the economy.

Small companies make up 97 per cent of all businesses in New Zealand, provide employment to 29 per cent of the workforce and generate more than a quarter of GDP. And just like the middle class and the working poor, small companies are being squeezed and struggling to make ends meet.

ROTORUA DAILY POST
7 Jun, 2018 7:00am
4 minutes to read

My organisation, CPA Australia - representing more than 2,000 New Zealand accountants, many small business owners, who we've consulted in preparing our submission to the Tax Working Group - is advocating options to reduce the tax burden on small companies in order to boost growth, increase employment and create wealth.

This could be a lower rate for companies according to staff numbers and/or turnover, for instance, or a tax-free threshold for smaller entities and start-ups.

Another option is a progressive tax rate, such as Malaysia applies to its sector, whereby companies pay a lower rate until a threshold is reached and a higher rate is applied for taxable income above the band.

One significant structural weakness in the small company sector is its minimal uptake of technology and poor participation in the digital economy. New Zealand is well behind all other major markets in the Asia-Pacific, save Australia, which is also a digital laggard.

Owners need to be encouraged to effectively use digital platforms to maintain international competitiveness, grow their businesses and create wealth and jobs. Accelerated deductions for small companies and start-ups investing in technology could provide an appropriate spur.

In terms of broadening the revenue base, we're recommending the group examine a range of options, including a comprehensive capital gains tax (CGT).

New Zealand's current tax laws as they apply to property are significantly out of step with other developed countries in the world. The fact investors can negatively gear housing assets and claim deductions against income but then potentially book a tax-free profit when selling seems outlandish in developed economies in the 21st century.

Even with the Government's extended bright line test, the current regime is overly generous and skews investment decisions, whereas our Kiwi members believe a comprehensive CGT would likely reduce the attraction of property investment, reducing the competition homeowners face and increase accessibility to the housing market.

These will be hard decisions even if the group does accept our recommendations but our members believe (with some dissenters) that it's the right thing to do.

This suggests that a CGT is politically palatable in the current environment. To successfully implement tax reform requires strong political will and no small amount of courage.

As Australia has demonstrated over the decades in failing to implement tax reform, the Government needs to take the people with them by effectively selling the economic and social imperatives for change.

I believe, and our New Zealand members agree, that time is now.