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Fixing the tax haven – what’s the downside?

Written By: - Date published: 10:37 am, May 13th, 2016 - 75 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, john key, tax - Tags: , , ,

Second in a series of obvious questions, why doesn’t Key just commit to fixing our tax haven loopholes? What’s the downside? A few lawyers lose an easy few million, but that isn’t worth the damage to the country. So why not act?

Toby Manhire puts it best:

Key like a cat on a hot tin roof

Amid the white noise of the yes-we-are-no-we’re-not squabbling, the truth of course is somewhere in the middle: New Zealand has become attractive as a location for offshore trusts or look-through companies, but these are neither integral to our economy nor a defining characteristic.

Nor would it be that hard to fix – amp up the disclosure rules, so to flush out or at least dissuade anyone who might be evading tax or laundering money, or otherwise involved in nefarious activity from sticking their cash under our mattress. As tax expert Deborah Russell puts it, it is simply a matter of following the Australian example and “collecting names of settlors and beneficiaries, and proactively disclosing them to authorities elsewhere”.

So why doesn’t the government do that? There is a distinct sense that the Prime Minister does see the sense in such a path. He was dismissive at the outset four weeks ago, but has since appointed John Shewan to review the offshore trust tax regime and of late started to use, a lot, the word “learnings” – a noun that should itself incur a hefty levy.

But at the same time, some of Key’s reaction has been puzzling – enough to prompt Winston Peters to suggest he appeared “like a boy who’s had a widdle behind the couch and he’s denying it to mum”. …

I still find it hard to believe, but combined with an unwillingness to take action on foreign ownership, it really does look as if this government cares more about the interests of the international rich than the local Kiwi.

75 comments on “Fixing the tax haven – what’s the downside? ”

  1. Steve Reeves 1

    Given that NZ has joined in with the anti-corruption movement (launched in London), will we also be doing this, as the UK is?

    “any foreign company buying UK property [must] join public register of beneficial ownership”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/12/super-rich-may-sell-london-homes-under-anti-corruption-rules

    And for trusts too????

    Or is Judith Collins’ copious use of words like “consider” the usual code for “kick into the long grass”?

  2. save nz 2

    Fixing the tax haven – what’s the downside?

    Where are Key and his fellow Kleptocrats going to hide their money?

  3. Richardrawshark 3

    He’s waiting till the Sherwin report. Instead of running around like headless chickens I suppose we will have to wait till then.

    To say he’s not doing anything is wrong. He ordered a narrow enquiry that technically is doing something about it.

    Your last sentence.. it really looks like..

    This is exactly what he’s doing and why, to protect a tax haven status. He wants it, he thinks it’s good for NZ banks
    if they hold funds here. To him it’s always been a win idea. He will resist.

    Either he takes it too the country or he shuts it down should be his ultimatum.
    What you should say IMHO is that what he’s doing is not enough.. and abc this is why..

    Lets play smarter people.

    • save nz 3.1

      We all know the Sherwin report will be a whitewash – the guy supports tax havens and sets them up!

  4. Richard Christie 4

    Why doesn’t the opposition simply ask the same question at question time?

  5. whateva next? 5

    As Rob Salmond’s tweet reminds us of a Fran O Sullivan’s 2010 NZH piece:
    “Key itching for quick action on financial hub”

    “Prime Minister John Key has slammed bureaucratic pin-pricking over the proposed New Zealand financial services hub as “absolute rubbish” and stepped in to put the project on the fast-track.

    Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee has been ordered to produce an urgent paper covering a zero tax rating for the relevant foreign funds which Key wants incorporated in the November taxation bill and passed by April 1 next year.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10691438

    • Richard Christie 5.1

      Key is confident New Zealand will be able to attract financial funds to place their back office administration here saying a chief executive of one of the world’s most powerful banks had told him: “If you are prepared to zero-rate foreign funds that are not invested in NZ, we’re going to move $2.5 billion of funds here in two years because you’re 50 per cent cheaper than Australia.”” – NZH Dec2 2010

      Back office?, Why can’t banksters learn how to spell orifice?

    • save nz 5.2

      Key itching for quick action on financial hub

      Fran forgot to add the words “tax haven”

  6. shorts 6

    I don’t find Key’s reaction puzzling at all – he is all about protecting those with money & power… its about all he stands for, protecting those he feels are better than him (those richer and more powerful)

    • whateva next? 6.1

      Indeed I am more puzzled by the blank, scared, frozen look in his Minister’s eyes, as they stand behind him when press questioning him, and in Parliament…. looking “programmed”.
      Does the public actually believe he has a cabinet of intelligent, thoughtful people capable of making the big decisions? (Which is what we are paying them for) or a group of automatons who may short circuit if put under any stress.

  7. Pat 7

    “why doesn’t Key just commit to fixing our tax haven loopholes? What’s the downside? A few lawyers lose an easy few million, but that isn’t worth the damage to the country. So why not act?”

    capital flight…..we are using the dodgy money to prop up our poor savings record and negative balance of trade.

    • Pat 7.1

      “In recent years, we have saved considerably less than we have invested. Foreigners have filled the gap by lending us money, attracted by our relatively high interest rates, or by investing here. When a
      New Zealander takes out a mortgage or a business loan, much of that money is likely to have come from overseas. And that’s okay, as long as it continues. But there are various scenarios under which foreign lenders and investors may change their minds and stop dealing with us or raise the cost considerably:”

      http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/reviews-consultation/savingsworkinggroup/finalreport/swg-report-jan11.pdf

      “15. The risks associated with New Zealand’s international tax obligations have been considered carefully when developing the proposal for taxing foreign-sourced income derived by a non-resident through a PIE at zero percent. For example, an option which has only non- residents and foreign-sourced income is unlikely to be consistent with New Zealand’s international tax obligations – this is because it may be considered to be a harmful tax practice as it precludes residents from investment.”

      http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/informationreleases/ris/pdfs/ris-ird-tarm-apr11.pdf

      http://investmentnews.co.nz/investment-news/government-coffers-boosted-with-pie-filling/

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        Pretty much. I wonder how painful our current account would look without these foreign hot money inflows.

        • Pat 7.1.1.1

          Just prior to the arrival of KiwiSaver and PIE, total retail funds under management (FUM) in New Zealand languished under $20 billion and falling. According to a Morningstar NZ market share report, as at December last year of the roughly $53 billion retail it measured, over $50 billion was invested via PIEs, split between KiwiSaver ($24.8 billion) and non-KiwiSaver ($28.5 billion) products.

          A recent Plan for Life survey, put the March 31, 2015 NZ retail FUM at $62.6 billion with KiwiSaver accounting for $28.5 billion of the total.)

          only question is how much of it belongs to entities who wish to remain anonymous….my guess given the parallel growth in FTs and PIE investment not an insignificant amount…..and should those funds decide they want a new home….

          “Furthermore, a lot of the foreign debt in New Zealand is short-term. If a majority of the foreigners investing here decide to pull their money out the next time their loans roll over, we could see an abrupt drop in funds available for mortgages and other loans and investments. This would lead to a long list of economic woes, including: rising interest rates; a shrinking economy; large job losses; falling values of property, shares and other assets; and reduced government spending on such things as benefits, pensions, health services and public sector wages – which would probably be driven down along with other wages.”

          20-40 million to Keys dodgy mates is just palm greasing

  8. Enough is Enough 8

    I agree 100% r0b.

    The question is “what is the fix?”

    Key has no intention of changing anything. We need to be articulating what must change. But to date I haven’t really seen the answer yet.

      • Bearded Git 8.1.1

        Little can do no right in Trotter’s eyes.

        In fact Labour is very much on the right side of the overseas trust argument even if Little’s “ban them all” response may be a little over the top. Key’s response on the other hand has been pathetic.

        Trotter is in thrall to Key. I think his idea in the article that Key would accept a deal with Labour to regulate the trusts is fanciful, even stupid. After Shewan’s whitewash Key will change the trust rules fractionally, claim the whole thing is sorted, and the MSM will lap it up.

        • NZJester 8.1.1.1

          After Shewan’s whitewash Key will change the trust rules fractionally, claim the whole thing is sorted, and the MSM will lap it up.

          If it is like most of his fixes, it will actually be plugging up one hole but secretly opening up a few other bigger ones to replace it.
          A smoke and mirrors fix to hide the fact he is doing the exact opposite.
          He will just make it harder for the public to see those trusts so they appear to be gone. He will be able to say their are no overseas trusts here as he will most likely have them renamed to something that does not include the name trust so he will be able to claim that when asked. You just watch!

      • Chuck 8.1.2

        A lot of common sense by Chris Trotter in his piece.

        I wounder why Andrew Little was not given this type of advice by his “strategy team”.? Maybe they did…but decided to roll the dice (to attack) in the hope the data base turned up some kind of a link to Key or senior National person / donor etc.

        • ankerawshark 8.1.2.1

          I have to disagre Enough is Enough about Trotter’s article………….Trotter is spinning for the Nats. Making it Labour’s fault again. If only Labour had have taken a different approach this this problem would be all tidied up by now.

          F Trotter. The second article in one week criticizing Labour and the Left and praising JK on 5th estate. I suspect he is now on Hooten’ payroll and after this article Hooten tweeted see I was right, I said Labour would be losers over the Panama papers…….

          I am afraid I only have one word for Mr Trotter at the moment SCAB

          • Bearded Git 8.1.2.1.1

            Agreed Ank-Trotter seems to have a phobia about Little and for some reason sees Key as untouchable/can do no wrong. Weird.

            In simple terms Little has it right on the overseas trusts-Key has it wrong. If Trotter can’t see this he has lost it.

      • Colonial Viper 8.1.3

        Trotter’s main thesis is that Labour under Little is not gaining traction with the public with respect to the Panama Papers.

        Polling over the next 1-2 months will make it obvious if Trotter is right.

        If Labour had kept to their strong stance on a CGT – tax free capital gains on property being NZ’s major tax dodging rort – they would be in a much stronger moral and policy position on this issue.

        • Enough is Enough 8.1.3.1

          I know Little hinted at dropping the CGT (notwithstanding r0b still using it as an example of bold Labour Party policy).

          Is it still part of their policy platform? I can’t find it.

      • ankerawshark 8.1.4

        I have to disagre Enough is Enough about Trotter’s article………….Trotter is spinning for the Nats. Making it Labour’s fault again. If only Labour had have taken a different approach this this problem would be all tidied up by now.

        F Trotter. The second article in one week criticizing Labour and the Left and praising JK on 5th estate. I suspect he is now on Hooten’ payroll and after this article Hooten tweeted see I was right, I said Labour would be losers over the Panama papers…….

        I am afraid I only have one word for Mr Trotter at the moment SCAB

        • Bearded Git 8.1.4.1

          Agreed +100. Trotter choosing Nats over Labour/Green. Weird.

          • ankerawshark 8.1.4.2.1

            Thanks for the article Pat. But I don’t really think this explains Trotter.

            If it did we would see it becoming more global in his opinion pieces. So he is quite happy to berate neo-liberalism and declare concern for victims of climate change who have a low carbon footprint, he target’s Labour in the same way that the likes of Hooten, Trevitt, Goweret al. Minimize Nationals mistakes, take aim at Labour and their strategies/policies and then praise Key’s skill in managing “the game”…….Key is skillful like many psychopaths/conmen, but rather than admiring it we should be unmasking it and what is behind it.

            • Pat 8.1.4.2.1.1

              it was an alternative proposition…..have read Chris Trotter for a while now and am still unable to determine his position on many subjects….he often writes conflicting/contradictory pieces , i assume at times for effect or to play devils advocate…but am often left wondering if he’s undetermined himself.

    • The question is “what is the fix?”

      The fix is mentioned in the quote from Toby Manhire in the post:

      As tax expert Deborah Russell puts it, it is simply a matter of following the Australian example and “collecting names of settlors and beneficiaries, and proactively disclosing them to authorities elsewhere”.

      You can’t engage in tax dodging or money-laundering if the authorities can see it’s you doing it. The above is the sum total of what we need to do to stop being a tax haven, but it would apparently wreck the foreign trust industry (funny that, given it’s so squeaky clean according to Key), which is why he won’t do it.

      • Enough is Enough 8.2.1

        Exactly PM

        Can some one in Labour’s office just pass this onto Andrew Little so that he can articulate a simple yet sensible policy.

        National has driven holes through his current idiotic policy. He needs to express this simple alternative and get it into the MSM as a Labour Party policy.

  9. Dave 9

    The prime minister argues there are legitimate reasons to have a foreign trust, for example to protect one’s assets in an unstable country, or in the case of Mexico with its unpredictable inheritance laws, to ensure family wealth stays within the family. Sorry John, that is not a legitimate reason. That Mexican businessman made his money in Mexico under Mexican Law. And if Mexican Law says he should pay an inheritance tax then he bloody well should pay it. There are a lot of people in Mexico who would appreciate the healthcare and education that tax would provide. And if that Mexican businessman doesn’t like the law, or thinks there is too much corruption then he should go to work on those issues in his own country and not exacerbate the problem by hiding his money offshore (NZ). Or put it like this: If you think someone who disagrees with the way a tax is implemented shouldn’t have to pay it, then I need to talk to you about my tax bill in NZ Sorry JK, that statement just shows how screwed up your values are.

  10. NZJester 10

    You forgetting who else looses money if he closes NZ tax haven loopholes.
    Just look at all those so called anonymous National Party donations. You think that most NZ business alone could afford to give them that huge pile of anonymous donations funneled to them through lots of anonymous donation loopholes?
    Those in National have no idea (Wink Wink) who gives them any of those anonymous donations I’m sure.

    • gsays 10.1

      thats right, nzj. i can think of 24 million reasons dear leader will not close this industry down.

      • Richardrawshark 10.1.1

        Oh He will, when the polls slump and he absolutely has his back against the wall and has delayed it as long as he possibly can. unless the polls hurt. the polls always the pollllllllls my preciousssss

        But what if the polls go up! will he then say I new the country was full of dodge pots like me. whoopie!

  11. Henry Filth 11

    Trusts. A searchable public register. Settlors, beneficiaries, trustees all recorded.

    Why not?

  12. Nick 12

    Here is the reason.
    As Prime Minister, John Key only ever had two ideas.
    First there was the idea of building a cycle track the length of the country. (He claims to have done some back-of-an-envelope calculations and found that it would cost $35,000,000 to build, employ 5000 people and produced profits in the billions. (Check the actual figures). That is why this financial genius became Minister of Tourism rather than Finance, Revenue or Arithmetic).

    The second idea was to create a financial hub (Right here in River City!). When the notion was poopooed by Treasury, Brownlee, yes, Mr Grump himself, was put on the case. If it hadn’t been for Gaia’s intervention, he might still be battling to build that.

    Instead, all that was left of the idea was to use the trust laws to enable a grubby, petty dodgeball trust regime. It is John’s legacy.

    Actually, the idea probably first came from his “lawyer”.

    I wonder who thought of the cycle-way…..Max?

  13. The Real Matthew 13

    Thus far not one foreign trust in NZ has been identified as achieving tax haven status here.

    But hey why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

    • framu 13.1

      that doesnt even make logical sense

      the issue is the entire system for foreign trusts registered in NZ allows the source and destination of money and the trusts bennies to stay secret (unless you also happen to know the name of a particualr trust i think)

    • Johan 13.2

      To: TRM
      Still trolling???;-)))

  14. TopHat 14

    This is what the pillock is afraid of…
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/12/super-rich-may-sell-london-homes-under-anti-corruption-rules

    It’s all about house prices again?

  15. Graeme 15

    Well it looks like the Trust industry is moving pretty quickly to get out of the way of any changes. MSI Global reported in Stuff http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/79944701/accounting-alliance-warns-foreign-trusts-they-can-expect-tighter-rules

    Some of the language is galling “As New Zealand approaches an election in 2017 the National government is likely to want to be seen to be policing foreign investment more strictly to appeal to the populist element in the New Zealand electorate”

    Also seems there was an OECD meeting in Beijing yesterday regarding tax evasion,
    “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said New Zealand, along with 38 other nations, ratified an agreement relating to the automatic transfer of tax information at a signing ceremony in Beijing overnight.

    The primary purpose of the “Multilateral Competent Authority agreement for the automatic exchange of Country-by-Country reports” was to help crack down on tax avoidance by multinationals.”

    More interesting was this at the bottom of the Stuff article
    “Baucher Consulting said in a blog post in March that United States entities would not be bound by the reporting arrangements because the US government had negotiated its own unilateral rights to obtain tax information from overseas.

    The lack of symmetry meant funds had been moving out of “traditional tax havens” into the US which had now in effect become “the biggest tax haven in the world”, the blog said”

    Intriguing about the US becoming a tax haven.

    • Murray Simmonds 15.1

      The USA is always “Outside” of what any other half-decent democracy is trying to legislate against, Graeme.

      • Graeme 15.1.1

        Looks like they will be “outside” of most of the world the way they are going….

        And makes the machinations around the Panama “hack”, Cameron’s little gathering and this OECD meeting all the more intriguing. This is a little larger than our tiny patch.

  16. Pat 16

    “As New Zealand approaches an election in 2017 the National government is likely to want to be seen to be policing foreign investment more strictly to appeal to the populist element in the New Zealand electorate”

    shouldn’t that read “start policing.full stop”?

  17. Murray Simmonds 17

    At the risk of sounding like a “conspiracy theorist” (which is an approach that I sometimes find attractive, and sometimes most definitely do not), one has to ask:

    1. What is all this shmuck about “One Bank” and “The New World Order” that is so widely broached on sites like Youtube? (Try “Googling” either of those two terms).

    2. Did key, or did he not attend a Bilderberg Group meeting soon after becoming PM of NZ?

    (Just asking).

    • Graeme 17.1

      Don’t worry, the way gone right will be going all conspiracy theorist about “One World Government” right now too…

      But maybe where this is going is a more open and harmonised global financial regulatory environment. Globalised business has been several steps ahead of the regulators for a while and there seems to be an international effort underway to sort things out.

      • whispering kate 17.1.1

        He also belongs to the International Democrat Union which consists of seventy members from fifty six countries who are of the centre right. He chaired the meeting there in Marrakesh in October thereabouts 2015, on the tax payers purse, it certainly was not on his official timetable – he tucked it in while he was away on his”official” business as PM.

        Now everybody thinks he is of the centre left but its a load of hogwash. He panders to the centre left as it keeps him in power. He is an ultra right winger through and through and is only obeying his masters in far away places – he has an agenda and its definitely not for NZ. I don’t think this is a conspiracy, its logged on the Internet that he attended this meeting.

      • whispering kate 17.1.2

        He also belongs to the International Democrat Union which consists of seventy members from fifty six countries who are of the centre right. He chaired the meeting there in Marrakesh in October thereabouts 2015, on the tax payers purse, it certainly was not on his official timetable – he tucked it in while he was away on his”official” business as PM.

        Now everybody thinks he is of the centre left but its a load of hogwash. He panders to the centre left as it keeps him in power. He is an ultra right winger through and through and is only obeying his masters in far away places – he has an agenda and its definitely not for NZ. This is not a conspiracy, its logged on the Internet that he attended this meeting.

  18. Murray Simmonds 18

    P.S. If you are searching “One Bank” Do it from WITHIN Youtube. There really is a legit organization called “One Bank” and they are nothing to do with the stuff that appears under that name on Youtube.

    (Just mentioning this in case they try to sue me for my back teeth – of which, alas,
    I happen to have none).

    And incidentally, The Wikipedia entry on “New World Order” is well-worth a read.

  19. Murray Simmonds 19

    ” . . . and there seems to be an international effort underway to sort things out.”

    Sorry, Graeme, I have to disagree. “. . . there seems to be an international effort TO APPEAR to be trying to sort things out.”

    Well OK, that just might be the “paranoid” (aka “Skeptic”) side in me coming out. But do have a bit of a look at the “Doomsday Scenario” and “One World Order” stuff on sites like Zero Hedge and Youtube.

    Yeah, I know, a lot of it is just plumb crazy. but if you take a healthy skeptical approach, the stuff published there does raise an occasional question of interest that one would do well to keep at the back of one’s mind.

    OK just my opinion.

  20. Observer (Tokoroa) 20

    . The value of Andrew Little is his honesty.

    ……It contrasts enormously doesn’t it.

    Andrew Little is dedicated to bringing a fair deal and a fair go to the New Zealand population. Not just to the rich.

    He has also drawn the Opposition together on a number of issues in a coherent and effective way.

    I think that neither the self aware genius of Trotter, or the dazzling ambiguity of the Viper has much to offer.

    However they are set on destroying Andrew Little so as to crown King John Philip Key.

    • Colonial Viper 20.1

      Labour 25% +/-3% in 2017, and Little replaced by Grant Robertson shortly thereafter.

      BTW that poor result will be due to the political incompetence and cultural irrelevance of the Labour leadership, not due to me or Trotter.

  21. Reddelusion 21

    John key is s lizard man and tinfoil hats in his presence is recommended

    • Draco T Bastard 21.1

      I think it’s a bit late for you – you’re brains already fried.

  22. ianmac 22

    Haven’t caught up with all the above but liked Winston’s bit.
    “But at the same time, some of Key’s reaction has been puzzling – enough to prompt Winston Peters to suggest he appeared “like a boy who’s had a widdle behind the couch and he’s denying it to mum”. … and Winston added that “if he did do it he would help to clean it up.”

  23. Huginn 23

    Is any of this money exchanged into $NZ?
    And if so, is there enough of it to distort the exchange rate?

    • Pat 23.1

      Is any of this money exchanged into NZ dollars?Yes,if any of it is invested here(and i believe it is) …is there enough to impact the exchange rate?….because no one appears able to measure it we can’t say…..the whole point of FTs is anonymity and secrecy.

    • Draco T Bastard 23.2

      the NZ$ is the 10the most traded currency in the world according to Wikipedia. 8th equal with Australia according to Investopedia. According to Investopedia they’re both great for the carry trade:

      A currency carry trade is a strategy in which an investor sells a certain currency with a relatively low interest rate and uses the funds to purchase a different currency yielding a higher interest rate. A trader using this strategy attempts to capture the difference between the rates, which can often be substantial, depending on the amount of leverage used.

      Doing nothing of any value and getting rich.

  24. Brian Turner 24

    Collins on corruption,wot a joke.

  25. Incognito 25

    like a boy who’s had a widdle behind the couch and he’s denying it to mum

    John Key likes to play with the boys in the sandpit.

  26. UncookedSelachimorpha 26

    Labour or the Greens (or Winston?) should use this situation to go after Key on his own wealth and tax contribution situation – this information would starkly illuminate Key’s actual values I suspect.

    Unfortunately I fear many MP’s won’t, because their own arrangements are less than commendable.

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