Taxing the super-rich

Written By: - Date published: 10:01 am, June 18th, 2012 - 21 comments
Categories: class war, tax - Tags: , ,

Interesting article in the Weekend Herald:

Super-rich tax probes net $500m

New Zealand’s richest people have paid more than $500 million in extra tax after an Inland Revenue crackdown.

The unit was set up in 2003 and has collected $467 million so far. This year the total is expected to pass $500 million, so that “headline” figure is over a 10 year period, not as significant as it sounds.

IRD investigators have unravelled the complex tax affairs of individuals who have, or control, more than $50 million each, to ensure they pay their fair share of tax. New Zealand has 250 “high-wealth individuals” who made their fortunes from property development, investment, retail, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.

They have 7500 associated entities – such as companies and trusts – which can be used to avoid paying tax. One had a web of 197 entities. “Aggressive tax arrangements can include the use of tax havens, transferring profits to associated offshore entities, using trusts to divert taxable income, and showing lifestyle and luxury assets as business assets,” said IRD investigations manager Stuart Duff. …

“In most cases they do register, file and pay on time, but the complex nature of their business structures and entities means accurate reporting can be an issue.”

There can be no valid reason for a single person to have 197 legal entities shuffling money, the only (invalid) reason is tax evasion. Labour started this project in 2003, the IRD now has 10 years worth of data and understanding. It is time for Phase 2. Build on this foundation and change the law to close the loopholes. Set a legal maximum on the number of financial entities a person can own. Set clear and transparent accounting rules that let us see where the money goes. Crack down harder on tax evasion. (No it’s not “the politics of envy” to expect everyone to pay their legal share, and if you want to make that argument then be prepared to defend “the politics of greed”).

The ball is now in the Nats’ court. They like bang on about benefit fraud, are they just as keen to go after the super-rich? (And the “family trusts”, also discussed in the Herald piece?) Time will tell I guess, but I’m not holding my breath.

21 comments on “Taxing the super-rich”

  1. This really makes you wonder about decisions by the Nats that have reduced IRD’s staff numbers. These sorts of backroom public servants fulfil a very important role by making the wealthy pay their fairish share of tax. Cutting staff means that the ability to ensure this happens is lessened.

  2. ad 2

    +1 Mickey.

    It’s a brutal cost to upgrade but IRD are currently running a computer system that has not taken into account Kiwisaver properly, or a host of other major reforms in the last decade. It seriously needs an upgarde – particularly if the Greens get their idea of a public provider option for it.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1

      Heard of screen scrapers ?

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        Screen scrapers are a terrible band-aid and over a long enough period will cost more to implement and maintain than simply replacing the underlying system would have.

      • Ben 2.1.2

        There are a number of things which make screen-scrapers difficult to use against FIRST (their core system). Some of their transactions were done using screen-scrapers (and may still be), but they were very limited and notoriously unreliable.

        • burt

          And lets not forget, if the stuff presented on the screen is wrong then scraping the screen has zero chance of fixing the problem.

          Or another way to say it: Putting lipstick on the pig isn’t hiding the fact it’s a pig.

      • burt 2.1.3

        Heard of screen scrapers ?

        Hey that could make a bad situation even worse…. Just like Labour party policies for the economy.

  3. tc 3

    Upgrading systems where the folk who feed, watered it with crucial knowledge around data and process are no longer around due to retrenchments, as they are those backroom people the nats bang on about. This will cost a huge amount of money and time and carries a high risk.

    If you keep the knowledge you minimise the cost going forward….another example of ideology creating costs that future generations have to pay.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    There can be no valid reason for a single person to have 197 legal entities shuffling money, the only (invalid) reason is tax evasion.

    Yep, that’s about it.

    Set a legal maximum on the number of financial entities a person can own.

    Set it so that they can’t own any. They can only be themselves that way there wouldn’t be any of the complexity that allows the hiding of taxable incomes.

    • Murray Olsen 4.1

      Spot on. It doesn’t seem that there is any reason to have these entities other than tax avoidance/evasion. A burglar caught with tools ends up in court; a tax avoider ends up with a knighthood. Something has to change.

      • burt 4.1.1

        And a politician ends up with a plum SOE board position or a top job at the UN !

        How many times have you heard: “Pay it pack” for politicians….. every single time it should have been “stand in court”. It would have been if it were Joe Average who stole from their employer !

  5. ianmac 5

    There are some very rich politicians who would make sure that Tax investigation of the rich would get buried. Isn’t one of the Scandinavian countries where every persons income/tax is available for Public scrutiny? Imagine the scramble to have that in NZ.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Isn’t one of the Scandinavian countries where every persons income/tax is available for Public scrutiny?

      Haven’t heard of that one but that’s how it should be. You only encourage and increase corruption by having such details secret.

      • Bob 5.1.1

        And increase targetted crime by having them public.

        I do like the idea that the individual is the center for tax purposes rather than the company though.
        Also, simplify the tax system! Too many loopholes, too many vaguities. Why not have a 20/20/20 system? $20,000 tax free, 20% GST, 20% Income tax over the tax free threshold, thats it. It would certainly make IRD’s job easier, be a form of progressive tax (the higher earning pay a higher % of total income than the lower earning), don’t allow depreciation on goods (only the ‘rich’ use this, and can hide tax behind depreciating property that is in actuality increasing in value), and all income including investment property rentals and dividends on shares would be included on your tax returns. This should also make investment properties less desirable which in turn should help bring down the house price for first home buyers.

        Or am I being a little simplistic here?

  6. Dean Reynolds 6

    A simple but very effective way of levelling the tax playing field is to put all taxable entities on the same taxable basis. At present, individuals are taxed on a sliding scale with 33c in the dollar as the top rate, companies are taxed on a flat rate of 28c in the dollar & trusts on a different rate again. Therefore, the wealthy self employed with their own companies & family trusts can split their total income across 3 entities to minimise their overall tax.
    If all 3 entities paid tax on exactly the same basis – a sliding, progressive scale, then the wealthy wouldn’t need to employ parasitical tax accountants & lawyers to shift their income around to minimise their tax bill. No matter which entity declared the income, the tax rates would be the same If a Labour Green Govt takes the maximum rate back to 39c in the dollar ( still a low rate by OECD standards), the Govt would have some real money to do a whole lot of essential activities. eg. buy back privatised SOEs.

  7. burt 7

    Dean Reynolds

    If all legal entities had a sliding, progressive scale, then the more entities you had the more tax advantage you would get.

    If you want to structure tax such that there is no way to game it then a flat tax rate the same for all legal entities is the only way. Progressive taxation is the root of all evasion behaviour.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Progressive taxation is the root of all evasion behaviour.

      No it’s not – greed and the desire to be a bludger while whinging about people on the UB is.

      • Murray Olsen 7.1.1

        I think you can add flexible ethics to that mix, Draco. When I was younger we called it dishonesty.

    • burt 7.2


      At best tax cheats are “as bad as” welfare cheats. Both classes of ‘abuser’ are reducing the government net tax take for their own benefit – dishonestly… unethically… opportunistic… well advised… whatever the reason is. Once we judge the ‘badness’ by the dollar value we have lost sight of the principle and are punishing the quality of the implementation and/or the scale of the opportunity.


      Dito for flexible ethics really. Lets not forget a beneficiary keeping a $100/week allowance they should declare they are not entitled to is ‘scale wise’ probably way grander than a rich prick minimising by $1m/year through expedient use of legal tax structures.

      The issue as observed by others is the tax legislation. That’s what is attempted to be implemented and that in itself is a problem. Simple record keeping systems are utility product. Billing systems are, by nature, simple. Billing rules and the interaction between the plethora of different rules and calculations are the problem.

      Get a feel for this.

      The answer isn’t adding more rules ( eg: must not have more than [x] legal entities…) but hey I bet “has more than [x] legal entities ?” makes a great filter for detection of shoddy behaviour.

  8. How about ALL political parties taking up the demand for the OPENING OF THE BOOKS and telling us EXACTLY where our taxes and rates monies are being spent on private sector consultants and contractors?

    If private sector consultants and contractors are not providing services more ‘cost-effectively’ than former ‘in-house’ staff directly employed at central and local government level – then they’re on ‘corporate welfare’ – which should cease forthwith.

    Where’s National’s ‘corporate welfare’ reform?

    David Shearer – please take note?

    If NZ could save $40 BILLION by ‘cutting out the contractors’ – then there would be no need to raise the age for ‘SUPER’ eligibility?

    For an ACTION PLAN to prevent ‘white collar’ crime, corruption and ‘corporate welfare’ – check out

    Penny Bright
    ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

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