Budget to distinguish good and bad debt


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will highlight in its May 9 budget a distinction between “good” debt, incurred to boost growth, and “bad” debt, used to finance welfare and other recurrent spending. The Conversation

Treasurer Scott Morrison will say in a speech to business economists on Thursday that while previously all debt, whether for capital or recurrent purposes, has been lumped together, in this budget it will be linked to spending.

This “will make clearer the share of expenditure that is contributing to investment that increases productive capacity and produces future income and the debt that is being incurred to deal with everyday expenditure”.

The budget will also assign the level of government debt across portfolios. “We all need to understand what is driving the growth in our public debt and we need to budget in a way that creates accountability for increasing public debt and the interest payments that go with it,” Morrison says in his speech, released ahead of delivery.

The government is beginning the process of changing the spending culture, he says. “Portfolios will be held responsible for the debts they are incurring for future generations as a result of their expenditure.

“At the same time we will be providing room for common sense decisions to invest in our economy, by utilising our balance sheets to support investment that boosts growth and the jobs and wages that depend on that growth.”

On the latest figures net federal government debt in this financial year is estimated at A$317 billion.

Net debt is projected to peak at 19% of GDP in 2018-19 and then decline over the medium term.

The government remains committed to budget repair and its first priority for that remains controlling growth in spending, Morrison says.

“It is not sustainable for Australia to continue to finance our recurrent expenditure by borrowings.

“Australians understand taking out a mortgage to pay for their home is a wise investment for their future. But they also know that putting your everyday expenses on the credit card is not a good idea. It doesn’t end well.

“That is basically the difference between good and bad debt. The same is true for government.

“It can be very wise for governments to borrow, especially while rates are low, to lock in longer term financing and invest in major growth producing infrastructure assets, such as transport or energy infrastructure. But to rack up government debt to pay for welfare payments, Medicare costs or other everyday expenses, is not a good idea.

“This is a critical part of ensuring that government lives within its means.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/r88ra-6a1eda?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Chevron is just the start: modelling shows how many billions in revenue the government is missing out on


Roman Lanis, University of Technology Sydney; Brett Govendir, University of Technology Sydney, and Ross McClure, University of Technology Sydney

The federal government could collect billions more in royalties and tax revenue if it changed the rules on debt loading and adopted alternative royalty schemes in dealing with oil and gas giants, new modelling shows. The Conversation

Our modelling, funded by lobby group GetUp, found that over the four-year period from 2012 to 2015, Chevron’s average effective interest rate was 6.4%. However, it has been steadily reducing from 7.8% in 2012 to 5.7% in 2015.

We estimated that if Australia adopted a similar approach to Hong Kong to eliminate debt loading abuse, United States oil and gas giant Chevron would have been denied A$6.27 billion in interest deductions, potentially increasing tax revenues by A$1.89 billion over the four-year period (2012-2015).

The issue of debt loading abuse was highlighted last week when the full bench of the Federal Court dismissed unanimously Chevron’s appeal against the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), ordering the company to pay more than A$300 million.

Chevron Australia was using debt loading, where, compared its equity, it borrowed a large amount of debt at a high interest rate from its US subsidiary (which borrows at much lower rates). It did this in order to shift profits from high to low tax jurisdictions.

Based on Australia’s existing “thin capitalisation” rules, there is a maximum allowable debt that interest deductions can be claimed on, in a company’s tax return. Companies can exceed this debt but the interest charges must be at “arm’s length” – at commercial rates.

Chevron’s size and financial strength allow it to negotiate very competitive (low) rates on its external borrowings and this was the main issue in the Federal Court case. As the court has now ruled on what constitutes a reasonable interest rate for inter-company loans, this benchmark will likely be adopted by the ATO.

It can now approach and enforce this benchmark in similar disputes with confidence that companies engaged in debt loading will want to settle rather than engage in a costly court battle.

What the government could save from addressing debt loading

Chevron’s tax avoidance measures meant the interest rate, adjusted for maximum allowable debt, varied only slightly from their effective rate. Our modelling showed that if the ATO had applied the thin capitalisation rules to Chevron’s accounts each year over the four-year period, it would’ve reduced Chevron’s interest deduction by A$461 million and potentially generate an additional tax liability of A$138 million.

We modelled a scenario where Chevron Australia’s interest deductions were limited to the group’s external interest rate, applied to its level of debt. This would have reduced in the interest deduction by A$4.8 billion over the four year period, potentially generating A$1.4 billion in additional tax revenue.

We also worked out what would happen if Australia applied the debt loading rules Hong Kong does currently. Hong Kong disallows all deductions for related-party interest payments, making abuse of the system difficult. According to the latest ATO submission to the Senate tax inquiry, investment in the extraction of Australian oil and gas is almost entirely in the form of related-party loans.

Chevron Australia’s debt is entirely made up of related-party loans. If the Hong Kong solution was operating in Australia, we found that Chevron would have been denied A$6.275 billion in interest deductions, potentially increasing tax revenues by A$1.89 billion over the four-year period.

We also looked at ExxonMobil Australia, which also has high amounts of related-party debt (98.5%), and the Hong Kong solution would have denied ExxonMobil A$2.7 billion in interest deductions, potentially increasing tax revenue by more than A$800 million for the same period.

Changing the PRRT for more revenue

Our report also includes an analysis of the potential for additional revenue from replacing the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) with resource rent systems used in the US and Canada. Oil and gas sales have increased from an average of A$5.96 billion per year between 1988 and 1991, to an annual average of A$33.3 billion between 2012 and 2015, indicating the huge growth in this sector.

We modelled what would happen if the US and the Alberta, Canada, royalty schemes were applied to Australian production volumes and realised prices, to compare returns to those achieved by the PRRT.

The US royalty scheme charges a flat percentage royalty on production volumes, priced at the well-head. The royalty rate was progressively increased in the US from 12.5% to 18.75% between 2006 and 2008.

Based on the data from Australian production volumes and realised sales prices, the US royalty scheme could have potentially raised an additional A$5.9 billion in revenue for Australia since 1988, or A$212 million per year.

However, over the period from 2010 to 2015, the additional revenues would have been almost A$2.5 billion per year. This is because of both the decline in the PRRT revenues, relative to price and volumes, and the increase in the royalty rate in the US.

However, while the US scheme would raise more than the PRRT, the Alberta royalty scheme would raise substantially more revenue than both of these schemes. The Alberta scheme is progressive in nature, meaning the royalty rate increases with the realised price, similar to income levels and personal income tax rates.

The Alberta scheme has been amended many times and the current scheme only started in January 2017, so the full effects of this scheme will not be evident for some time. However, based on the data from Australian production volumes and realised sales prices, we calculate the Alberta royalty scheme would have raised an additional A$103 billion in revenue since 1988, or an additional A$3.7 billion per year.

As the scheme was only implemented this year, these results may be unrealistic, but are indicative of the level of revenue that could be raised. Over the period from 2010 to 2015, the additional revenue would have been A$11.3 billion per year.

The modelling done for our report considers just two multinational corporations, their use of debt loading and the PRRT. Now we can can hope for more revenue collection from many of the multinationals operating in Australia, as a result of the recent Federal Court ruling.

Critically, too often corporations are able to work within Australia’s tax rules to avoid paying for operating here, by constantly arguing they can’t develop business in Australia unless there are tax breaks. Our modelling demonstrates governments need to ensure corporations benefiting from the use of Australia’s resources are contributing the same as they do in other jurisdictions.

Roman Lanis, Associate Professor, Accounting, University of Technology Sydney; Brett Govendir, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney, and Ross McClure, PhD Candidate, casual academic, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is reflation and is Australia experiencing it?


Lee Smales, Curtin University

Since the 2007 global financial crisis, policy makers have been fighting deflationary (falling prices) and disinflationary (prices rising at slow rate) pressures. But the global economy finally appears to be entering reflation – a period of higher prices together with stronger growth. The Conversation

This is good news for households, businesses and governments around the world.

Reflation means the end of below trend growth, and this has widespread benefits. As demand grows, firms will expand production and will require more staff. This is good for job seekers, but ultimately it should also lead to higher wages. Although there is scant evidence of that so far in Australia.

The federal government will also benefit from reflation via increased tax revenue, as corporate profits increase and individuals return to the workforce. Meanwhile, government spending should reduce as benefit payments fall.

Seeing reflation

In its recent update on the World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) increased growth expectations both globally and in Australia.

The IMF noted there has been a recovery in investment, manufacturing, and trade. This is consistent with recent manufacturing data that signals there will be solid growth in the coming months.

The manufacturing data also noted that costs are increasing, largely thanks to rising prices for raw materials. Indications are that consumer prices are also turning upwards.

The latest figures show Australian inflation creeping into the lower end of the Reserve Bank of Australi’s target range, but smoothed underlying inflation (which takes out extreme price fluctuations) is still just 1.8%.

This pick up in economic activity has occurred at the same time as corporate earnings have improved. This is a global phenomenon, but Australia is able to benefit from this via trade, particularly in the resource sector.

Investors have been taking advantage of the “reflation trade”, by piling into assets that benefit from rising growth and inflation – companies in emerging markets and who sell discretionary items, such as cars and jewellery, to consumers.

In the 6-month period since the US election, stock markets in the US and Australia have each increased around 11%.

What’s causing reflation?

Following the financial crisis, central bankers slashed interest rates to all-time lows, and greatly expanded their balance sheets by purchasing assets, in a bid to stimulate their economies. Until recently this had failed to stimulate global demand, but that appears to be changing.

The White House has moved to deregulate industries, and has promised to increase infrastructure spending in the US.

As the world’s largest economy, reflation in the US results in economic growth elsewhere, particularly in countries like Australia that sell goods and raw materials into the US.

Finally, the political uncertainty of the Brexit referendum and US Presidential election have passed. Both consumers and producers are confident, and this is feeding into other decisions.

Will reflation keep going?

Whether reflation continues is far from guaranteed.

For starters central bankers could raise interest rates more quickly than expected if they think inflation will get out of hand. Already, the US Federal Reserve has indicated discomfort with high share prices. Increasing interest rates, or selling some of its recent asset purchases, could impact demand.

Second, there are already questions about the Trump adminsitration’s ability to enact legislation. The prospects of tax reform and infrastructure spending are fading. The infrastructure package, especially, had potential to increase inflation.

Finally, there are new sources of political uncertainty. Trump appears to have reversed course on engagement in the Middle East and North Korea. The UK faces a surprise general election and Marine Le Pen is still in the running in the French Presidential election.

More uncertainty inhibits firms making investment and employment decisions.

At present, the economic signs are good for a continued reflation of the global economy. This will benefit households as well as investors and corporations. However, this recovery is still fragile and may be thrown off course by policymakers and further increases in geopolitical tensions.

Lee Smales, Associate Professor, Finance, Curtin Graduate School of Business, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The real reason Scott Morrison is playing down the budget


Phil Lewis, University of Canberra

Despite the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, describing the federal budget as “not a centrepiece”, it has always been regarded as just that – the centrepiece of fiscal policy in Australia. The Conversation

Any changes in federal taxes and expenditure are intended to achieve good outcomes for Australia’s economy, such as low unemployment, price stability and economic growth. In economic terms, government spending should increase and tax receipts fall during downturns in the economy, and the opposite should happen when the economy is booming. This is how the government is able to balance out cycles in spending by the private sector.

Importantly, the budget is made up of more targeted fiscal policies (referred to as “discretionary” by economists) as opposed to automatic processes (referred to as “stabilisers”). The distinction between the two is important.

Automatic processes refer to when government taxes and expenditure generally increase and decrease with the business cycle. They are automatic because these changes in taxes and spending occur without the government having to do anything.

For example, when the economy is growing strongly, employment increases and unemployment falls. This results in unemployment benefit payments to workers, who were previously unemployed, automatically decreasing.

Also, when the economy is expanding, expenditure and incomes for workers and for businesses rise and the amount the government collects in taxes increases. When economic growth slows or becomes negative, the opposite occurs: the amount the government collects in taxes will fall and expenditure on unemployment benefits will rise.

With more targeted fiscal polices, the government takes actions to change spending or taxes. But although the budget is the centrepiece, it is not a very effective means of managing the economy.

The government and parliament have to agree on changes in fiscal policy. The treasurer initiates a change in fiscal policy through the budget in May each year. This must be passed by both houses of federal parliament, which can take many months (some measures have been blocked by the Senate for much longer).

Even after a change in fiscal policy has been approved, it takes time to implement. Suppose, for example, that parliament agrees to increase spending on infrastructure to create “jobs and growth”. It will probably take several months or more to prepare detailed plans for construction projects.

State or territory governments will then ask for bids from private construction companies. Once the winning bidders have been selected, they will usually need time to organise resources, including hiring labour, in order to begin the project.

Only then will significant amounts of spending actually take place. This delay may well push the spending beyond the end of the low point in the economy that the spending was intended to counteract.

Indeed, if the economy has recovered by the time the construction and related jobs come on board then the government spending will mean a shortage of labour in other parts of the economy and few or no new jobs (unless shortages are filled through migration).

Because the budget is a very difficult means of carrying out targeted fiscal policy, it’s become more important as a centrepiece for the government to set out its broad economic strategy – its goals and how to achieve them. But it seems that both major parties are failing even with this goal.

In recent years the view of most economists has been the need to reduce the structural budget deficit and the level of government debt. In 2016-17 net government debt stood at A$326 billion, and was forecast in last year’s budget to increase until at least 2018-19. There is also quite widespread acceptance that our tax system is in need of reform.

There are two glaring omissions from recent federal budgets of both major parties: any plan to significantly reduce the deficit any time soon, and any proposal to embark on meaningful tax reform.

The Rudd and Gillard governments will be remembered for Wayne Swan’s budgets, which consisted of new spending initiatives including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, and the Gonski education funding reforms, but featured no plan to raise revenues to fund them and manage the huge subsequent debts.

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott’s attempt in the 2014 budget to address government deficit and debt was regarded as a disaster, resulting in the demise of both as leading politicians. Morrison and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are desperate not to make the same mistake, and this severely limits their capacity to do anything meaningful to tackle the deficit and debt issue.

The major problem with successive budgets is that they have not provided a cogent strategy for improving living standards, including addressing inequity for the most disadvantaged Australians, which can only be achieved through economic growth.

Growth entails taking materials, labour and capital to produce goods and services of greater value that people want at prices they are willing to pay. This is best done by the private sector and cannot arise from wasteful government expenditure, accumulating debt or fiddling at the edges with markets, through such things as changes to superannuation or housing finance.

Growth and jobs can only arise from value-adding activities and government policies which facilitate this such as reducing debt, promoting free trade, reducing restrictions on business and labour market reform. This is hard to do and far more difficult than easy options, which explains why we can expect little from the budget to address real reform.

Phil Lewis, Professor of Economics, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Imposing GST on low-value imports doesn’t level the playing field


Kathrin Bain, UNSW

The government wants to extend GST to imported online goods under A$1000, effective from 1 July 2017, with Treasurer Scott Morrison stating it will “establish a level playing field for our domestic retailers”. But the proposed legislation doesn’t do this. Rather, it unfairly imposes GST on goods purchased from overseas sellers, that wouldn’t be subject to GST if purchased from an Australian seller. The Conversation

The government also hasn’t cleared up how the collection will be adequately enforced. Without appropriate enforcement, collecting more revenue from this tax seems unlikely.

Currently, low-value imports (those with a customs value of A$1,000 or less) are exempt from GST. If the legislation is passed, overseas vendors who sell more than A$75,000 of low-value goods to Australian consumers would be required to register for GST, and collect and remit GST on low-value goods to the ATO.

Those imports will continue to be stopped at the border with any GST, customs duty, and associated fees paid to Australian Border Force by the importer before the goods are released.

For sellers of low-value goods it will mean that an overseas supplier of both low and high value goods will be subject to two separate tax regimes. The requirement to collect GST will apply only to low-value goods.

Online marketplaces and mail forwarding services

The new law will also apply to online marketplaces such as eBay and “redeliverers” – businesses that forward goods to Australia from overseas companies. For goods purchased through an online marketplace, the marketplace rather than the seller will be treated as the supplier. Similarly, if low-value goods are delivered to Australia by a redeliverer, they will be considered to be the supplier for GST purposes.

While extending the GST to these goods is meant to level the playing field between overseas and Australian vendors, treating the online marketplace or mail forwarder as the supplier of goods is inconsistent with the treatment of domestic transactions.

As eBay has stated in their submission to the Senate Committee: “eBay is not a seller. eBay is a third-party online marketplace that simply connects buyers and sellers”.

For Australian vendors who sell items on eBay, it’s the individual seller who is responsible for collecting and remitting GST on products they sell (if they are required to be registered). A seller who uses eBay, but isn’t carrying on an enterprise or does not meet the A$75,000 turnover threshold, isn’t required to be registered and would not be required to collect GST on their sales.

However, the proposed legislation does not treat overseas vendors in this way, by treating online marketplaces and mail forwarding services as the supplier of goods. The Treasurer stated that:

Including online marketplaces ensures that only a limited number of entities need to collect the GST, rather than the multitude of small, individual vendors making supplies through these online marketplaces that compete with Australian retailers here in Australia.

With all due respect to Scott Morrison, he seems to have missed the point that small, individual vendors should not (if their turnover of low-value goods into Australia is less than A$75,000) be required to collect GST merely because they use an online marketplace.

EBay has gone as far as stating in their submission that: “Regrettably, the Government’s legislation may force eBay to prevent Australians from buying from foreign sellers”. This is because they would not be able to comply with the requirements imposed under the new legislation.

Compliance concerns

Despite the legislation being intended to come into effect on 1 July of this year, it is still unclear how the new system will be adequately enforced.

At the moment, information displayed on international mail declarations doesn’t indicate whether the overseas supplier is registered (or required to be registered) for GST. It also doesnt say whether GST has been collected, and whether it is being correctly remitted to the ATO. Even if this information was readily available, it’s not clear how the ATO would deal with non-compliant entities.

If it was determined that GST had not been charged and collected by the overseas supplier of the low-value goods, there is nothing in the proposed legislation that would allow the GST to be collected from the importer (instead of the supplier) when the goods enter Australia. However, attempting to enforce an Australian tax debt against a non-compliant overseas vendor would be a complex, costly, and likely fruitless endeavour.

Consumer advocate group Choice has expressed concern that the government would use powers under the Telecommunications Act to block the websites of non-compliant entities. However, Scott Morrison has indicated that the government has no intention of using this power.

Concerns regarding enforcement have been echoed in a number of submissions, including the Taxation Institute of Australia and Amazon. Both highlight the fact that lack of enforcement may simply encourage Australian consumers to purchase goods from non-compliant overseas entities that are not charging GST.

By treating online marketplaces and mail forwarding services as the supplier of goods, the proposed legislation does not treat overseas vendors in the same way as domestic vendors. The tax will only be effective if the system for collecting GST on imports can be adequately enforced. Without appropriate enforcement, high levels of compliance seems unlikely. A lack of compliance will continue to leave Australian retailers at a disadvantage, with only minimal increase in GST revenue.

Kathrin Bain, Lecturer, School of Taxation & Business Law, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget explainer: the federal-state battle for funding


Adam Webster, University of Oxford

There seems to be an ever present struggle for a share of the revenue government collects, not only between states but also between the different levels of government. The Conversation

In each year’s budget, the federal government allocates funds for federal programs (such as defence) and for some programs operated at a state level (such as school education, public transport, and hospitals). It has this role because it also collects more revenue from taxpayers than the states.

The reason for this all relates back to (at least in part) the Australian constitution.

The division of power between the federal and state governments

The federal parliament can only legislate (that is, make laws) in certain areas, known as “heads of power”, most of which are listed in sections 51 and 52 of the Constitution. This gives the federal parliament the power to legislate with respect to matters such as defence, external affairs, immigration, invalid and old-age pensions, and marriage.

In contrast, there is no equivalent limit on the legislative power of the states. The states may legislate in any area. However, section 109 of the constitution provides that where there is an inconsistency between a federal law and a state law, the federal law will prevail. In simple terms, this means that if the federal parliament has made a law dealing with a particular matter, state governments are unable to legislate in ways that conflict with the federal law.

The federal government’s control of revenue

The state and federal governments all have the power to collect tax, subject to some exceptions. Notably, section 90 of the Constitution gives the federal government exclusive power over the lucrative revenue streams of customs and excise duties (taxes on goods, such as alcohol, tobacco and fuel).

Until the Second World War, Australians paid income tax to both state and federal governments. However since 1942, the federal government has been the sole collector of income tax.

The federal government has also collected company tax for over 100 years, and the GST since 2000. The states could still collect income tax if they wanted to, but choose not to for political reasons.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to explore the possibility last year of both the federal and state governments collecting income tax, but this was quickly rejected by the states. While the states generate some revenue – for example through gambling, property and payroll taxes and mining royalties – they are unable to collect anywhere near the same amount as the federal government.

This creates a “vertical fiscal imbalance” between the federal and state governments. Conversely, the federal government is in the opposite position: while the federal government collects extensive revenue, its power to spend and directly fund programs is more limited.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Testing the government’s power to spend on certain programs

Until recently, the federal government thought it could spend money more or less as it pleased. However, the High Court clarified and restricted the federal government’s power to spend money and limited its ability to fund directly some programs.

Its power to spend was tested in 2012 and 2014 in two legal challenges to the government’s funding of the national school chaplaincy program. Prior to the legal challenges, the federal government had entered into agreements with religious service organisations – such as Scripture Union Queensland – to provide chaplains in schools.

The High Court held that (with some small exceptions) the federal government’s power to spend money is limited to where the authority to spend money is expressly conferred by legislation. The legislation authorising the spending must also be supported by one of the “heads of power” granted to the federal parliament by the constitution.

In the case of the chaplaincy program, the court rejected the arguments that the legislation could be supported by the power in one section of the Constitution to make laws for the “provision of…benefits to students” or by the corporations power in another section of the Constitution. To continue the funding of the national school chaplaincy program the federal government turned to the states for assistance.

How the federal government gives money to the states

Section 96 of the Constitution provides for the federal government to provide a significant proportion of its revenue to the states:

…the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

This distribution of revenue takes two forms – general revenue assistance (“untied funding”) and payments for a specific purpose (“tied funding”).

The untied funding that states receive from the federal government is largely made up of the money that the federal government collects from the GST. The states can spend this money as they see fit.

However, the passing on of the GST revenue is not unconditional. It’s conditional on the states giving up the collection of a number a number of states taxes.

The complex task of carving up the GST revenue between the states is left to the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The annual process always seems to leave a least one state claiming it should receive a greater share of the pie.

The federal government may also provide funding to the states for a specific purpose. The states have to consent to receiving the funding (which is not usually a problem), but it does mean that the federal government cannot impose programs on the states that they vehemently oppose.

This funding is tied to a particular project, where the federal government provides the funds and the state carries out the project. Grants such as these have been used regularly to fund education and health projects in the states. These specific purpose grants may be conditional on states meeting regular reporting requirements or achieving certain milestones.

Providing funding to the states through specific purpose grants allows the federal government to have great influence on policy areas that have traditionally been within the purview of the states.

The federal system of government created by the constitution divides power between the federal and state governments. While at times this might seem inefficient, it also provides checks and balances on government spending.

Adam Webster, Departmental Lecturer in Law and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The government’s company tax cut win a triumph of politics over economics


Brett Govendir, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, University of Technology Sydney

Now that the first stage of a cut to the corporate tax rate has been passed by the Senate it’s clear the benefits are more political than economic. The cut may signal to the world that Australia wants to be competitive on corporate tax, but it won’t make much of a difference to our largest businesses and multinationals. The Conversation

Company tax cuts have been on the government’s agenda since the 2016 budget, when the cuts were announced. Ultimately, the plan was to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% by the 2026-27 financial year for all companies.

The government has secured a cut to businesses with a turnover of under A$50 million, with companies with a turnover of less than A$10 million receiving a reduction in their tax rate (to 27.5%) this financial year. But the second stage of the tax cut is still to be passed, that would give a cut to businesses with a turnover of A$100 million in 2019-20.

The impact is all in Australia’s image

Arms of multinational companies often pay a much lower effective tax rate when compared to their parent company. Until politicians across the globe can agree how to ensure companies pay tax on local earnings, which appears unlikely in the near future, tax rates will remain a signal to multinationals on where to base their business.

The tax cuts have been strongly supported by big companies and even more so by the Business Council of Australia. A major reason put forward by the business community is the need to stay competitive in a global environment.

Our major trading partners such as the United Kingdom and United States are planning to drastically reduce their corporate tax rates and countries such as Ireland (12.5% on corporate trading profit) and Singapore (by 2018 20% capped at $20,000) already have very low corporate tax rates in place. Multinational corporations have the ability to profit shift to lower taxing jurisdictions.

For instance, a multinational can employ tax accountants to structure ownership of intellectual property in a low taxing jurisdiction and reduce gross income by license fees, or via debt loading to a parent company. Tax avoidance is often siphoned through a non-reporting subsidiary, so these accounting tricks occur without the glare of public scrutiny. In other instances multinationals have been able to completely bypass Australian tax by booking revenues overseas.

How it will affect accounting for Australian companies

When you look at what a tax cut might mean to Australian companies, it’s not hard to envisage how a tax cut tied to a specific revenue level creates incentives for accountants and lawyers to exploit new thresholds.

Accounting research from the United States shows companies do take into account tax when considering how to report their profits. For example, a typical strategy is to delay recognising an expense that belongs in the current year, until the next year.

This is usually to make it seem like the company has increased its profits, making it appear better to shareholders. However there have been no studies specifically relating to how companies might do this in relation to revenue (what the Australian government is considering for the tax cut).

At any rate, the net rate of tax on Australian company profits is considerably lower than the current 30% (or the new 27.5%) company tax rate. According to our calculations it should be around 11.3%. This is lower than the company tax rate in other similar economies.

There’s also something unique to Australia which means private companies pay less tax and that’s dividend imputation. This is designed to eliminate the double taxation of dividends in the hands of Australian shareholders.

Since it’s introduction in 1987, dividend imputation has provided strong incentives for firms to pay the full statutory tax rate on all reported profits. The tax paid on dividends flowing to Australian shareholders of Australian companies is reduced by an amount equal to the tax already paid by the corporation, this is known as imputation credits. A shareholder’s marginal tax rate, and the tax rate for the company issuing the dividend, both affect how much tax an individual shareholder owes on what is called a fully franked dividend.

Companies that pay fully franked dividends in Australia, pay on average over 10% additional tax on the same level of earnings than companies not paying franked dividends. Approximately 62.3% of imputation credits are utilised by resident shareholders.

The average effective tax rate of Australia’s largest private companies are much lower than that of the largest public companies (most of which pay fully franked dividends). You can see this in the table below which shows the effective tax rates calculated by two separate studies.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/3Hvfs/2/

One of the studies by the union United Voice looked at the ASX200 companies and the otherby lobby group GetUp examined the largest private companies operated by foreign multinationals.

The corporate tax rate does figure in investment decisions of Australian companies and foreign companies wanting to do business in Australia. However, the rate of corporate tax is at best a second order effect in influencing the decisions of foreign companies. Therefore, the gains from the government win in the Senate appear to be more political than economic.

At best the tax cut may somewhat reduce the burden on smaller Australian companies, albeit at a significant cost to the budget, without impacting the largest Australian and foreign multinationals. Although prospects for further tax cuts for the big end of town (which has a greater impact on the economy) are unlikely in the next five to 10 years without Senate crossbencher support.

Brett Govendir, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, Associate Professor, Accounting, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison says budget will remember the renters


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The proposed housing affordability package in the May budget will target people relying on social housing as well as those trying to break into the market, Treasurer Scott Morrison has said. The Conversation

Morrison said housing would be a very strong focus of the budget and he stressed the rental side.

“It won’t just deal with the challenges faced by first home-owners,” he said. “You have got to remember that over 30% of Australians actually live in homes that are rented, and when people are finding it hard to get into the housing market that puts a lot more pressure on the rental market.”

Noting that the number of people on low incomes in rental stress had gone up, Morrison said: “I am as much concerned about someone who is on a low income struggling with their rent as I am with someone who I know wants to get on the home-ownership market themselves. They are both important challenges for Australians.”

Morrison renewed his criticism of “one of the most disgraceful failures of public spending” – the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This was “a one-way cash ATM to the states which asks for nothing in return.

“We are handing over A$1.3 billion every year and the number of people on public housing waiting lists has gone up. The number of social housing dwellings which are owned by the state governments has gone down. We have basically shelled out billions and billions and billions for a program that isn’t achieving anything,” he told Sky. These were matters that would be addressed in the budget.

“We have to spend that money better. We don’t necessarily need to spend less on that. It is a very important issue,” he said.

He was frustrated as treasurer that while serious money was spent on a lot of problems, “the debate is so often that you need to spend more here. No, just spend what you are spending really well and more effectively and get the outcomes that we are accountable for.”

He said social housing often got overlooked in the debate, and he was “quite passionate” about it.

The Victorian government at the weekend announced relief from stamp duty for first home-buyers purchasing properties below $600,000. Investment properties would not be eligible.

There will be a concession, applied on a sliding scale, for properties between $600,000 and $750,000. The exemption and concession applies to both new and established properties and the state government says it will help 25,000 Victorians with first homes.

Morrison also highlighted the problem of flat wages growth and the consequences that brought.

“Whether it is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], whether it is schools, whether it is hospitals, whether it is Medicare – at a time when wages growth is admittedly and regrettably flat, Australians – particularly hard-working Australians on middle incomes – rely more and more and depend more and more on these services,” he said.

“And so the budget does need to signal, and the government has been signalling this, the need to ensure that people can feel confident about the support for those services.”

He made it clear that any improvement in commodity prices or wages growth would be used for budget repair rather than for new spending.

With an eye to the imperative that the budget must be convincing to the ratings agencies, Morrison said: “We have to deal with the political environment that we work in. You can’t just go out there and announce a whole range of things which you don’t have a reasonable prospect of being able to implement.”

He said Labor seemed “to be engaged in a very cynical process of sabotaging the budget to try and crash the AAA rating”.

“They won’t engage in getting spending under control, they want to see the nation’s welfare bill be higher. They want to tax people more to pay for a higher welfare bill.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hb5bg-683276?from=yiiadmin

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/vtwdr-682691?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Penalty rates – Shorten’s own goal becomes Turnbull’s political problem


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The latest reflection on just how appalling things are in federal politics came this week from former Treasury head Ken Henry, who’s now chairman of NAB. The Conversation

“Our politicians have dug themselves into deep trenches from which they fire insults designed merely to cause political embarrassment. Populism supplies the munitions,” Henry told a conference in Canberra. “The country that Australians want cannot even be imagined from these trenches,” he said.

A senior player in reforms under Hawke-Keating Labor and the Howard government, Henry contrasted the current dysfunction “to earlier periods of policy success – where politics was adversarial, every bit as partisan – but when the tribal tensions within parties were generally well-managed and the political contest appeared to energise policy, not kill it”.

Henry may be slightly romanticising the past, as often happens when people look back to that period of policy-rich achievement. There were more than a few unedifying times in the fights of those years. But his general point is right.

He and his fellow heavyweights in the banking industry have just had a close-up view of the Coalition’s ugly tribalism with Treasurer Scott Morrison’s tantrum over former Labor premier Anna Bligh’s appointment to the Australian Bankers Association. It was short-sighted, counter-productive behaviour.

The fact that some in the Coalition saw Bligh’s appointment as the banks writing off the government was revealing. Given the volatility of politics, the bankers would hardly be predicting the next election’s outcome now – the interpretation suggests more about the mindset of alarm in Liberal circles.

When governments are flagging there is always talk of a “reset”. We’ve been hearing it this year, just as we did in the Gillard days.

But looking to a “reset” is more often than not to be staring at a mirage. It’s true that in 2001 the Howard government had a spectacular “reset”. It changed some decisions and crafted a canny budget, but the biggest factors in cementing its turnaround were Tampa’s arrival and September 11.

Some Coalition MPs believe Malcolm Turnbull’s burst of aggression – over Bill-and-the-billionaires and Labor and renewables – will give the government its “reset”. It’s doubtful. People don’t like abuse. And in the energy debate, this week’s Essential poll suggested the government is struggling.

So, looking ahead, there are no quick fixes, or answers based in a superficial change of style. The government faces the toughest slog, as it contemplates a budget that’s difficult to put together and the challenge of delivering an energy policy.

There will be pressure to spend in the budget to gain credibility on health, which cost the Coalition votes last July. Stories are already appearing about ending the freeze on the Medicare rebate. But where will offsetting cuts be found?

And, given the Senate gridlock on savings, can the government produce a budget that doesn’t alienate voters but keeps the ratings agencies at bay and Australia’s AAA rating intact?

As for energy security, the government’s “clean coal” frolic is genuinely hard to understand – beyond fears about regional seats and pressure from the Nationals – given that the word from the sector is that investors won’t go there. Eventually hyper rhetoric will have to give way to concrete measures that can fly.

High electricity prices are a politically sensitive cost-of-living issue and the government is trying to pin the blame for them, and for blackouts, on Labor’s commitment to renewables.

But suddenly there is a new cost-of-living issue, with the Fair Work Commission decision on Thursday to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for those working under the hospitality, fast-food, retail and pharmacy awards.

This is not the government’s decision – the commission is independent and the government didn’t even put a submission to its inquiry.

And, in an ironic twist, Bill Shorten when workplace relations minister paved the way for this decision, with amendments requiring the review of industrial awards to cover the area of “additional remuneration” for employees working on weekends, public holidays, shifts and the like.

The Gillard government thought it was writing protection of penalty rates into the award system. Julia Gillard, addressing an Australian Council of Trade Unions summit, said: “We will make it clear in law that there needs to be additional renumeration for employees who work shift work, unsocial, irregular, unpredictable hours or on weekends and public holidays.”

Labor says it never envisaged the commission would reduce rates. Let alone when the bench members are overwhelmingly ALP appointees.

Although it did not make it, the decision is in line with general government thinking for industrial relations reform. But the government finds itself caught between its base, that will applaud the cut, and many voters whose hip pockets will be hit.

It argues the decision will boost employment, as the commission says. However, the job increases – which neither the commission nor employers can quantify – are likely to be longer in coming and less visible than the pay losses.

Shorten has potential to make hay with the decision, helped by the unions. Those facing smaller pay packets are unlikely to be diverted by the government highlighting his role in getting the review of penalties rolling.

Labor says it will intervene when the commission on March 24 considers transition arrangements; it also is looking to some parliamentary initiative. If (as seems likely) these paths come to dead ends, it is promising legislation if it wins the next election to clip the wings of the commission.

The government faces a dilemma as to whether it intervenes to put a view on how long the transition should be.

There is a parallel here with the problem the government is facing with its omnibus bill which reforms child care while shaving family tax benefits. In each case, people stand to lose something.

The big difference is that with the penalty rates the government isn’t the body making the decision and can say the judgement of the independent umpire should prevail. But if Labor can make the Coalition wear some of the odium for low-paid workers losing dollars, this will be another burden for Turnbull.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What economists and tax experts think of the company tax cut


Jenni Henderson, The Conversation

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Treasurer Scott Morrison are still trying to sell their plan to cut the company tax rate to 25% by 2026-27. The current rate is 30% and has been since 2001.

The tax cut was introduced in the 2016 federal budget. The government indicated small to medium businesses turning over less than A$10 million would pay a company tax of 27.5% initially. The company turnover threshold for the tax cut would then increase over time from A$10 to $25 million in 2017-18 to A$50 million in 2018-19 and finally A$100 million in 2019-20.

But before any of this happens, the government needs to convince the senate crossbenchers to pass the legislation. It seems the government hasn’t won over tax experts and economists with this policy, here’s some articles that explain why.

Don’t expect an instant wage increase

In a national press club address Malcolm Turnbull justified the tax cut by saying, “company tax is overwhelmingly a tax on workers and their salaries.” It follows that cutting it would increase salaries right?

However there’s a whole lot of decisions businesses need to make before they even consider raising wages. It’s not just as simple as the government makes out, as professor John Freebairn from the University of Melbourne notes:

Individuals benefit from lower corporate tax rates with higher market wages. But the higher wage rates will take some years to materialise, and the magnitude of increase attributed to the lower corporate tax rate, versus other factors, is open to debate.

Businesses would need to consider the savings of international investors, what resources the business might need, what the return for investors would be on these. All of this before it would consider a wage increase for its workers.

The enlarged stock of capital, technology and expertise per worker becomes a key driver of increased worker productivity. In time, more productive workers are able to negotiate higher wages. Via this chain of decision changes, employees benefit from the lower corporate tax rate.

Any modelling on how much a tax cut could be worth to our economy is up for debate

Modelling is sensitive to whatever assumptions the government makes and these assumptions can be oversimplified. ANU principal research fellow Ben Phillips points out that tax reform like this inevitably has winners and losers and is influenced by powerful lobby groups.

In thinking about tax reform it is important to keep in mind that the gains from modest tax reform are not likely to be a revolution in Australia. The models themselves only estimate relatively small gains from tax reform.

Here’s a little something to bear in mind when hearing any figures thrown around on how much a company tax cut could be worth:

Over the past 25 years Australia’s living standards have increased by around 60% whereas the sorts of gains estimated from tax reform are expected to be little more than 1 or 2%. It remains important that in securing such modest gains we don’t ignore fairness.

The benefit to the domestic economy won’t be that big

The idea behind the cut is that companies will be motivated to provide jobs and other economic benefits because they are receiving a tax break. In theory this kind of tax should boost the economy in the long term, but as John Daley and Brendan Coates from the Grattan Institute explain it’s not that simple.

In Australia, the shares of Australian residents in company profits are effectively only taxed once. Investors get franking credits for whatever tax a company has paid, and these credits reduce their personal income tax. Consequently, for Australian investors, the company tax rate doesn’t matter much: they effectively pay tax on corporate profits at their personal rate of income tax.

The Grattan researchers point out that if companies pay less tax then they might reinvest what they save, but in practise most profits are paid out to shareholders. So the tax cut won’t have much of an impact on domestic investment.

They also pick holes in the Treasury’s modelling on the tax cut’s boost to Gross National Income (GNI).

Treasury expects that cutting corporate tax rates to 25% will only increase the incomes of Australians – GNI – by 0.8%. In other words, about a third of the increase in GDP flows out of the country to foreigners as they pay less tax in Australia. And because most of the additional economic activity is financed by foreigners, the profits on much of the additional activity will also tend to flow out of Australia.

It doesn’t make much of a difference

Another argument for cutting Australia’s company tax rate is to deter companies from shifting their profits to other countries where the tax rate is lower. Recently President Trump promised to cut the United States federal corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.

Antony Ting, associate professor at the University of Sydney notes most countries have been reducing their company tax rates over the past two decades. This hasn’t changed the incentive for multinationals to avoid taxes.

The tax-avoidance “success” stories of multinational enterprises such as Apple, Google and Microsoft suggest this argument is weak. The fact is that the profits these multinationals shift offshore often end up totally tax-free.

A FactCheck by Kevin Davis, research director at the Australian Centre for Financial Studies, reviewed by economist Warwick Smith, says there’s no point to comparing Australia’s company tax rate with other countries anyway.

Australia’s dividend imputation tax system means that any comparison of our current 30% rate with statutory corporate tax rates elsewhere is like comparing apples and oranges.

Small and medium businesses actually lose out

Due to the way the proposed company tax cut is structured, foreign investors get a windfall while local employers including small and medium businesses cop a cost because they remain uncompensated.

Economist Janine Dixon from Victoria University modelled how the cut would play out.

Local owners of unincorporated businesses are taxed at their personal tax rate. Because of Australia’s dividend imputation system, Australian shareholders in incorporated business are also taxed at their personal rate, not the company tax rate.

She explains that 98% of small businesses (employing four or fewer people) are wholly Australian owned and because of this are indifferent to the cut, but 30% of large businesses (employing more than 200 people) have some component of foreign ownership.

An increase in foreign investment is generally understood to be a driver of wage growth. This is the basis for the argument that at least half of the benefit of a cut to company tax flows to workers… We find that benefit to foreign investors will exceed the total increase in GDP. In the domestic economy, benefits to workers will be more than offset with a negative impact on domestic investors and the need to address additional government deficit.

Other things are just as important

Even if some businesses are keen for a tax cut, meaning more money in the kitty, it’s how these businesses spend this money that counts.

Jana Matthews from the Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia says many CEOs are uncertain about what to do in order to grow their business and are fearful of making the wrong decisions.

We need to focus as much attention on the management education of founders, CEOs and MDs [managing directors] of medium-sized companies as we do on providing them with more money. Once they learn how to grow their companies, they will definitely need money to become the engines of growth, and they will certainly hire more people, creating the jobs we all want.

The Conversation

Jenni Henderson, Editor, Business and Economy, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.