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NRT: Taking on our local tax cheats

Written By: - Date published: 10:37 am, November 30th, 2012 - 26 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, International, national, tax - Tags: , , ,

From the indefatigable I/S at No Right Turn

Taking on our local tax cheats

overseas, governments and media are asking increasingly annoyed questions about tax cheating by multinational companies such as Starbucks,Apple, and Facebook. Now Labour joined the campaign, and has taken up the cry locally:

Facebook New Zealand paid just $14,500 tax – give or take a few dollars – last year, making a mockery of Peter Dunne’s refusal to consider closing tax loopholes for multinationals, says Labour’s Revenue spokesperson David Clark.

“The New Zealand arm of the world’s most used online search tool, Facebook, paid only $14,497 in tax last year.

“In 2010 its tax bill was a mere $5,238. For a company that has 2.2 million users in New Zealand and makes billions worldwide, that’s barely believable.

“It appears Facebook is using the ‘double Irish’ tax technique. That’s where it uses Irish Facebook, which pays just 12.5% tax, to determine revenue and expenses. This ensures the company can put most of its revenue through countries with low-tax systems.

“Peter Dunne calls that ‘legitimate tax avoidance’. I call it a rort.

Clark is right – it is a rort. And it is not one we should accept. Across the Tasman, the Australian government is planning to close the loophole which allows these companies to export these profits tax-free. But Peter Dunne has no plans for us to follow suit, and his past public statements suggest he supports tax evasion.

Tax cheats steal from us all. Every dollar they save in tax from these tricks is a dollar we have to pay, borrow, or cut – a dollar we don’t get to spend on schools, hospitals and state houses. The government should make these companies pay their fair share. And if the present government refuses to do so, because they are on the side of the tax cheats, we should elect one that will.


26 comments on “NRT: Taking on our local tax cheats”

  1. karol 1

    Up on Stuff in the last half hour, Dunne seems to be responding with a request for information.  Doesn’t mean he’ll recommend action though.

     Revenue Minister Peter Dunne has asked for an urgent report on tax avoidance by multinationals….

    Dunne said he had asked officials to report to him urgently on “both the implications for New Zealand of the steps other countries are taking, and also the options available to us here”.
    “I am expecting to receive that advice soon, and the Government will then consider what should be done,” he said.

    • David H 1.1

      Or it could be the beginning of yet another screeching Uturn.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      It will be Dunne starting the sensible conversation that will result in some changes that will, essentially, be the same thing in different words.

  2. Herodotus 2

    Whist agreeing in his sentiment.
    David undermines his position by getting turnover confused with profit and his calculation in the tax rate (If the report has been reported correctly !!)

    He said Google New Zealand was also “funnelling revenue” through its low-tax Irish counterpart, paying only $109,038 tax on $4,447,898 in revenue last year.

    “That’s two per cent, way below our 28 per cent corporate rate.

  3. Ennui in Requiem 3

    When St Peter greets newly departed souls at the Pearly Gates he decides their eternal fate by reading from the Book of Life. It is quite clear that the book does not distinguish between personal and corporate tax cheating….it quite clearly judges the the owners of corporate shares to be personally responsible for cheating Caesar. All sin is ascribed to a person (a soul), corporates quite clearly are not people, they have no soul so cannot sin. Clearly they are owned by sinners.

    • Rogue Trooper 3.1

      Dark and Foreboding and all through the house…not a Rat was registered, just shooting for “Grouse!”

      • Ennui in Requiem 3.1.1

        We have no past, present or future here in Purgatory, eternity is just that, beyond time, through a glass darkly…no foreboding,only boding! And the boding is bad for earthly rats, St Pete has them truly registered. Grouse eh!!!

    • Mike 3.2

      However, under statute law, corporations are persons. They have all of the legal rights of natural persons with none of the attached moral and ethical considerations to worry about. We have allowed the legal system to require corporations to ensure their primary responsibility as legal ‘persons’ is to the shareholder and to maximise the return for the shareholder. That’s why I shake my head when I hear people protesting about companies putting profit before people. Yes it is entirely wrong to put profit before people, but there is no point in taking companies to task, they are only doing exactly what they are designed to do and are required to do by law. It is those who make the statutes that are to blame.

  4. Rich 4

    We need a different tax basis.

    I suggest setting an expected profit margin on a per-sector basis. Large companies would be expected to account for their turnover and taxed on the expected or actual profit, whichever’s higher. Where a business is genuinely growing and investing in NZ, it could get a dispensation for a limited period (up to 5 years) but would be expected to start making normal profits after that. Where the point of delivery is ephemeral (like advertising-based websites) the basis would be global turnover times customers in NZ.

  5. tracey 5

    A minister of revenue who in his fourth year asks for this information, its a joke.

    There is no will.

    A company can pay its lawyers over 100,000 from non company funds, lose the case, wind up the company and pay nothing. How about this law chanfe. If a company pays to defend itself from non company funds the judgment and costs can be sought from tge directors personally and trust of which they are trustee or settlor. Simple, but it wont happen. 39m each year of welfare fraud is nothing compared to these rorts, perhaps labour could make a meme from this.

  6. tracey 6

    Eir, it cld be done so easily too. For example builders and designers are now personally liable for problems for ten years. But not developers, not councils… There is no will.

  7. tracey 7

    Has anyone notice that profit announcements often are phrased as profit is down x % … Makibg it seem like the company has done poorly, poor company. Actually its still in profit. You find it with banks alot.

  8. ianmac 8

    According to a chap on Morning Report the trouble is that these entities are not bricks and mortar but are mostly intellectual property which is very difficult to identify let alone tax. He thought it would need a concerted international response.

    • insider 8.1

      IP can be taxed if there is a claim for its value and payments are made for it, just like bricks and mortar. Transfer pricing is a well known and monitored in other areas where pricing benchmarks are well established, even for professional services (eg lawyers and accountants) as well as steel and oil.

      Maybe the issue is identifying the true ‘value’ of that IP and associated licensing arrangements. I believe IRD has pretty wide powers to deem a value if it feels the commercial boundaries are being pushed.

    • Rich 8.2

      So you simplify it:
      – global revenue $4bln
      – NZ customers 2mln / 1 bln = 0.2%
      – NZ imputed revenue $8mln
      – Imputed profit 25% = $2mln
      – Tax due = 28% x 2mln = $560k

      • Policy Parrot 8.2.1

        Transfer pricing is a legal way to conduct business affairs. Its ostensible purpose, under the aegis of instrinsic motivation, is to make sure that managers are rewarded/punished in line with their actual performance, and not held accountable for things that they cannot control for – i.e. currency fluctuations etc.

        However, in the last twenty, especially ten years, transfer pricing has become a convenient way to minimise tax by minimising business unit profit in high tax jurisdictions and maximising in low tax jurisdictions. It is something will be hard to develop anti-avoidance measures for – the only possible solution is to harmonise international business tax rates.

        Remember, any tax system has to be arbitary, i.e. rules (and not case) based. The other potential easy adjustment that a future Minister of Revenue (lets face it, Peter Dunne wont do this) could do is to have the higher of:

        A. Either the assessed tax as per current (28% of gross profit).
        B. The equivalent NZ$ market value of the previous year’s CEO’s remuneration package.

        Sure, it might not recover as much as we probably should if the companies were operating under the spirit of the tax laws, but any extra remuneration to the boss would mean extra revenue for the state. Note for Google (NZ), that would mean a tax bill of NZ$130 million (for just 2012/13 alone). However, companies will likely change their remuneration policies, so such largesse should not be anticipated.

        • Draco T Bastard

          It is something will be hard to develop anti-avoidance measures for – the only possible solution is to harmonise international business tax rates.

          No it isn’t and no it doesn’t.

          One of the reasons why businesses get tax deductions on expenses is because the expense is often paid to another business and so will be taxed anyway with the government, in theory, losing very little tax. But things have changed. That used to be the case when it was guaranteed that the tax deducted expense was paid to a business in the same country which is no longer true.

          This leads to two changes:
          1.) All income from NZ will be taxed at NZ tax rates (and I think companies should be on PAYE as well and not have a flat tax rate far below what individuals pay)
          2.) Business expenses that get paid to businesses (including branches of the same business) outside of the country are not tax deductible.

          Tax that we charge are to support this country. Having internationalised companies avoiding paying those taxes is puts excess stress on the companies and individuals in this country.

          • Policy Parrot

            It is something will be hard to develop anti-avoidance measures for – Thinking in the same box, it is. Thinking outside the box obviously has different results. I am not confident about the chances of international collaboration on business tax rates either, some countries will have a lot to lose.

            Draco – while I admire sentiment – ultimately the tax system has to be arbitary. And by moving to tax income/revenue, it wont be arbitary anymore – naturally high margin firms will be favoured over those with low margins. And there are whole industries (e.g. airlines) that operate on a tiny percentage (legitimately) of profit. And then there is the whole issue whether we want to reward those (relatively) who are more likely to gauge more from their customers.

            The other alternative is for the IRD to be involved in the setting of transfer prices (again, issues with arbitary treatment). Still think the idea of setting the tax bill as equivalent to the ulimate CEO’s remuneration is an idea worth pursuing.

            Addendum: Any discrimination against foreign firms may just increase costs for local consumers, and also penalise those who are forced through no option to look overseas for sourcing components etc.)

    • vto 8.3

      ” the trouble is that these entities are not bricks and mortar but are mostly intellectual property which is very difficult to identify let alone tax”

      man some people get away with twaddle don’t they? How is that any different from the intellectual property that you get when you see your solicitor or accountant? It’s not. There is a charge and so there should be a tax. Just like those of us out here in lalaland – if only I was some intellectual property which only existed in cyber space ……..

  9. tracey 9

    Ianmac, it always comes down to will. It was easy enough to change labour laws under urgency

    • Jim Nald - Once Was National 9.1

      “it always comes down to will”

      Yeah, well, on issues of these kind for NACT-Dunne,
      it is not a matter of political “will” and should turn out to be “won’t”.

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